John Graz

Sunday should not be declared an official rest day for Europeans, but if a new proposal moves forward it should be amended to also include those who have another day of rest.

Who can argue with the idea that everyone would benefit from a weekly day of rest and relaxation? This seemingly self-evident notion is driving a new movement in Europe to reclaim Sunday as a day of rest for overworked and over-stressed Europeans. The European Sunday Alliance made its pitch to the European Union's Economic and Social Committee in Brussels on June 20, arguing that if Sunday were declared a "work-free day" across Europe, the result would be healthier families, a more cohesive society, and a more balanced lifestyle for everyone.

These are worthy goals. And it's not difficult to see why the European Sunday Alliance settled on Sunday as the day of the week most suited to their plans. Even before the 4th century, when the newly Christianized Roman Empire declared Sunday a mandatory day of rest, the first day of the week (the Day of the Sun) was already a day with strong religious -- albeit pagan -- associations.

There are deep traditional and historical reasons why Sunday, of all the days of the week, should be proposed as a weekly rest-day for Europeans. But dig a little deeper, and it becomes clear that declaring Sunday -- or indeed any other day -- as the "official" rest day of Europe generates significant complications.

Can today's pluralistic Europe afford to marginalize its 13 million Muslim residents, who attend mosque on Friday? And what about the EU's significant community of Jews and Seventh-day Adventists who observe Saturday as Sabbath -- the oldest biblical day of rest which finds its roots in the Genesis creation story?

If, as the European Sunday Alliance declares, one of its major goals is "greater social cohesion," then alienating significant faith groups, and making it more difficult for them to practice their faith, is surely not the best way forward.

Yes, a weekly day of rest is vitally important. Many studies have linked a regular day away from the concerns of work with significant health and social benefits. As far as this goes, the European Sunday Alliance in on the right track. Yet designating one day - Sunday -- as the official day of rest day will lead to a plethora of social, employment, and legal problems that would, ultimately, be far from "restful."

I agree, also, that the history and traditions of Europe should play a significant role in its culture today. And there is no doubt that protecting and respecting people's right to a weekly day of rest should be a priority.

Yet just as important is the right of all human beings to order their lives in a way that's consistent with their religious convictions. This right is enshrined in multiple international covenants. It's a foundational, non-negotiable aspect of basic human dignity.

With respect, I would urge members of the European Sunday Alliance to amend their proposal to acknowledge that just as everyone should be guaranteed a work-free day, so every person has the right to live, worship, and, yes, even rest, according to the dictates of conscience.

--John Graz is Secretary General of the International Religious Liberty Association