The ACLU of Virginia announced today that it will urge Virginia officials to take quick action to correct an error made by legislators when they partially repealed an old Virginia law addressing business practices on the Sabbath.
During the 2004 Virginia General Assembly session, lawmakers took the “blue laws” off the books but left intact the sections of the code that allow people of some religions to demand days off from work while not allowing people of other religions to demand the same.
Under the old blue laws, eroded by numerous exemptions over the years, very few employers in Virginia were subjected to the requirement that employees be allowed to demand Sunday off for rest or Saturday off for worship. But after legislators mistakenly repealed part but not all of the law this year, that requirement now applies to all employers.
Under the law as it now exists, any employee may demand Sunday off as a day of rest. Employees may demand Saturday off instead if they wish, but only if they certify that it is their Sabbath and that they will not engage in any secular business or labor that day. Nothing in the law allows employees to demand Friday off, a day recognized as holy by most Muslims, or any other day celebrated as the Sabbath by any other religion.
“The state cannot require employers to accommodate some faiths but not others,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “It is a basic tenet of our Constitution that all religions must be treated equally.”
“Under the law as it now stands,” Willis added, “if you are Christian in Virginia your Sabbath is automatically available to you as a day off if you request it. If you are Jewish or a Seventh Day Adventist, it is available but only if you promise to treat it as the Sabbath. And if you are Muslim, your day of worship is probably not available to you at all.”
“If any employee feels they are being discriminated against based on this law, they should contact us,” added Willis. “We hope that the state will act quickly to correct this monumental foul-up, but in the meantime, it is important that no employee be treated differently based on his or her religion.”
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022