Virginia’s legislature made a mistake, they say. Not too long ago, my state’s government repealed a whole bunch of old, unnecessary laws. The problem was, they didn’t mean to repeal one of them.
You see, one of the laws they repealed was a list of exemptions in the Virginia Day of Rest Law. The Day of Rest Law is an old one—it dates back to the Jamestown colony—which gave workers the right, if they wanted, to take Sundays off.
The law was amended later to give workers either Saturday or Sunday off, if they wanted, depending on which was their religious Sabbath.
By repealing all the exceptions, the Virginia legislature essentially reenacted the original law in full force. Embarrassed lawmakers scurried about, trying to figure ways to undo their horrible mistake.
But, nobody seems to be asking what I’m asking: what’s the big deal? Legislators have ‘set things right’ now, they’ve fixed their error, but why shouldn’t workers have the right to take their religious holy day off? My religion dictates that I am to rest on Sunday. The Jewish faith requires the same on Saturday. The Muslim holy day is Friday. I can’t see how it’s the end of the world if practitioners of these faiths are guaranteed the right to follow their traditions.
Nobody is required to take any day off. If I want to work on Sunday (and get the extra pay that would come with that), then nothing would stop me. But if I want to dedicate my Sundays to God, my employer should not be allowed to stand in my way.
I’m not saying that the original law was perfect (I don’t know enough about it), but instead of dismissing its effective reenactment offhandedly as an error, Virginia’s government should have honestly considered whether giving workers the right to celebrate their weekly holy day was really such a bad idea.
One legislator, Del. Mitchell Van Yahres (D-Charlottesville), had the guts to raise this question. “I can understand some of the panic caused by this mistake,” he said. “But when an attorney alerted us to the problem, everyone jumped to the defense of business. I still haven’t heard anyone speak up for the employees.”
The “mistake” was fixed by a 79-1 vote in the House of Delegates. Van Yahres was the one dissenter.