Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is troubled that many low-paid employees work on certain holidays instead of being home with their families. As a professional lawmaker, she proposes to address this problem by making a law: requiring double pay for holiday duty.
The Assemblywoman figures higher pay justly compensates workers for being separated from their families on a special day, and may create a financial incentive for businesses to operate differently – perhaps by closing entirely or reducing their hours on these days.
To much fanfare, she introduced a bill to create two state-mandated double-pay holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. The first is an utterly secular holiday (though with Puritan roots). The second of course is a profoundly Christian occasion, even after slogging through the cultural and commercial trappings layered on over the centuries.
Assemblywoman Gonzalez has said she wants to “honor every worker when they have to be away from their family and friends.”
Well, maybe not every worker.
Calling Christmas a “family holiday” cannot vitiate the First Amendment’s proscription against establishing religion any more than calling warrantless wiretapping by law enforcement a “standard police activity” confers a safe harbor under the Fourth Amendment. Each is ignorant of Constitutional principles and an affront to the American social contract.
Singling out Christmas and Thanksgiving as “family holidays” sends a message to Jews that Yom Kippur and to Muslims that Eid al-Fitr are not for families. For that matter, it denigrates the Orthodox Christmas, typically celebrated two weeks after December 25. It sends a message to all Californians that a particular holiday celebrating a particular faith among all others, is recognized and esteemed by the State.
This is not to say that family holidays should become a “best of” selection: one holiday for each confession, including, say, the birthdays of Haile Selassie and L. Ron Hubbard, to honor Rastafarians and Scientologists, respectively. That the list would be endless and incomplete is beside the point.
Reasonable people can disagree over the extent of on-the-job benefits for California workers. But few would argue a better or fairer measure of overtime and premium pay than actual hours worked or the specific working conditions. This is easily calculated and utterly unconcerned with a business owner’s or employee’s personal beliefs. As the Constitution’s framers wisely anticipated, regulating the workplace on the terms of one or many religious holidays is simply outside the competence and calling of government officials.