Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | ANN staff

An alliance promoting work-life balance and social cohesion in Europe reiterated its call for work-free Sundays at a conference in Brussels, Belgium last month. 

The European Sunday Alliance, a coalition of national Sunday alliances, trade unions, civil society organizations and faith communities established in 2011, is gaining some traction in the European Parliament but continues to trouble religious liberty advocates.

At the Second Conference on Work-Free Sundays and Decent Work, the alliance launched a pledge targeting current and future members of the European Parliament, asking lawmakers to promote legislation that “respects” Sunday as a “day of rest” and guarantees fair work hours.

“A work-free Sunday and decent working hours are of paramount importance for citizens and workers throughout Europe,” a document distributed by the alliance said, adding that extending the workweek to “late evenings, nights, bank holidays and Sundays” is jeopardizing the health, safety, family and private lives of employees.

The alliance also argues that a longer workweek with fewer holidays isn’t the answer to Europe’s entrenched financial woes—instead it favors job creation and competiveness.

“Competitiveness needs innovation, innovation needs creativity and creativity needs recreation,” the document states.

Economic arguments aside, religious minorities in Europe—among them Muslims, Jews and Seventh-day Adventists—worry the proposal could infringe on free expression of religious beliefs, despite its seemingly well-intentioned goals of reducing stress and overwork.

“Millions of European citizens belonging to religious minorities could be affected by [the] EU Sunday Law aspirations,” said Liviu Olteanu, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist Church’s Inter-European Division (EUD).

In a January 21 news release, the EUD endorsed the position of Hannu Takkula, a Finnish member of the European Parliament who has spoken out against work-free Sundays. 

“Legislation must never discriminate on religious grounds. A law setting up Sunday as the universal work-free day would do just that,” Takkula said in a recent news release.

“Freedom of religion and belief is a core European value. … The European Union must guarantee everyone equal rights and freedoms to celebrate the rest day of their convictions,” he added. 

John Graz, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist world church, said he was pleased that Takkula and other Parliament members are taking a clear stand against work-free Sundays. 

“We encourage all lawmakers in Europe to protect the rights of all people of faith, including those who do not observe Sunday as a day of rest,” Graz said.

Adventists in Europe have questioned the effects of work-free Sundays since the European Sunday Alliance was established.

In 2011, Raafat Kamal, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the Adventist Church in Northern Europe, said Adventists “support the notion that people need a day of rest to achieve a work-life balance,” but “at the same time, we want to be sure that those who don’t observe Sunday as a designated religious day of rest will be respected.”

Now, Olteanu is directly calling on members of the European Parliament “not to interfere in matters relating to religious liberty and freedom of conscience, proposing or accepting laws that affect the religious liberty of religious minorities.”

Olteanu encouraged Adventist Church members in Europe to pray for the situation and contact their respective Members of Parliament or MEP candidate to lobby for their religious liberties. 

“We should commit ourselves with wisdom, balance and [a] positive attitude to be ambassadors of liberty, hope and peace, loving others but looking always to promote and defend religious liberty for all people,” Olteanu said.