Would You Play the Religion Card for a Day Off Work? September 23, 2008

Would You Play the Religion Card for a Day Off Work?

Reader Julie has an interesting dilemma for you all:

Here’s the deal.

In previous years, teachers in my school district did not work on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah. These were non-paid, non-assigned days. I heard that the reason we got these days off was that there were so many Jewish employees that it was more cost effective to shut the whole operation down than to hire so many subs.

Then, we started getting off “Columbus Day Observed,” but it would be on Yom Kippur.

This year, we got a memo from the principal:

Tuesday, September 30 and Thursday, October 9 will be regular school days. All classes will be in session.

1. Contrary to previous years, teachers who wish to take the day off for religious observance may do so WITH PAY.

2. Teachers who wish to take the day off WITHOUT PAY, as in previous years, may do that as well.

3. Teachers who wish to work may do that.

Please fill out the bottom part and return to my mailbox as soon as possible.

NAME _______________________

___I plan to work on Tuesday, September 30.

___I plan to NOT work and be unpaid for Sept. 30.

___I plan to be out Sept. 30 for religious observance.

___I plan to work on Thursday, October 9.

___I plan to NOT work and be unpaid for Oct. 9.

___I plan to be out Oct. 9 for religious observance.

Um…I’d like to be UNpaid. Sure. Right.

As it turns out, Julie has a baby. An extra couple days off would be nice. And to get paid for it? Even better.

She has a case for playing her religious card, too… because of her birth, she’s officially a Jew for life. She’s even been to temple a number of times.

(I doubt they’re going to ask for proof that she actually attended religious service.)

So, what should Julie do?

  • Be honest and not take the days off?
  • Play the Jewish card and get paid for the religious holidays she’s not actually celebrating?
  • Something else entirely?

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • It doesn’t specify which type of religious observance you are taking the day off for. I would say a quick blessing to the FSM and then enjoy a guilt free paid day-off.

    Or maybe this kind of religious observance would be more appropriate.

  • Take it off with pay. The option is there, might as well take it. Think of it as one of life’s small pleasures, like masturbation. It sure feels good, and nobody has to know you’re doing it but you!

  • Becky

    This upsets me. Of course I’d take it off WITH pay, and I’ve never been to a temple. But this seems unfair, and way against Church and State if this is at a public school.

  • SarahH

    If I had the biological claim to being Jewish, I’d totally take a paid religious holiday.

    The Christian holidays that all school employees get off (like Good Friday, for example) aren’t just for the serious church-going Christians. They’re for everybody, since Christians are just such an overwhelming majority that school districts wouldn’t think of operating on those days.

    As atheists don’t have “religious holidays” I think it’s perfectly reasonable to claim the days that fit closest to your personal history with religion, unless of course you prefer to only take unpaid days off. I don’t think it’s hurting anyone, and it fits with my idea of fair play I guess.

  • If this is a public school, there may be a church/state issue if some teachers are given preferential treatment due to their religion.

    Otherwise, definitely, I’d use it to my advantage. I’d claim to be a Reformed Druid (we worship at shrubs as well as trees) and demand all kinds of days off with pay for “religious holidays.” If they didn’t give them to me, I’d scream about other religions getting preferential treatment.

  • stephanie

    Well, back when I was a bartender, I used to tell the manager I was going out back to NOT smoke a cigarette. I wanted the ten minutes but not enough to kill myself for it, and after only a weak protest the first time I did it, the manager just gave up.
    Of course I’d take the day off with pay if I needed it. Otherwise, wouldn’t it be a tacit support of the school giving special privilege to religion?

  • Take the days. Enough religious holidays are shoved down folks throats anyway, what’s one more?

  • That’s blatantly discriminatory. Take the days off with pay, obviously. Doesn’t matter if you’re jewish or not.

  • RobL

    Hardly a dilemma – take it with pay. “Religious Observance” can mean anything. “I’m an atheist and I want to observe the latest episode of Nova” would qualify. This sort of memo would not fly in Washington State – don’t know about labor laws where you live but I doubt it’s kosher there either. I’m afraid you don’t work for very smart people.

  • Jen

    I would. And I wouldn’t feel guilty about it. I don’t know what that says about me.

  • In a way, when religion in any guise enters a secular arena, its actions become cultural in nature more than religious, which ultimately means the rights of the faithful will be subject to the same economic bottom line as the rest of us… and to put up a fight against these religious days off is a very big fight. I don’t blame you in the least for balking at the thought and leaning toward the days off.

    However, it would be nice to see our culture embrace a “just because” day off once in a while.

  • Julie

    These comments are awesome. I will check the appropriate blanks for my paid days off tomorrow! Whoo hoo!

    When I have observed Yom Kippur in the past, it was with my grandfather, who would get free tickets to the local service by saying that he was new in the neighborhood. This was a lie he told a few years in a row. I guess, since Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, we were supposed to atone right away for that. Or maybe that lie rolled around to the next year, so that was our first sin post atonement. Not sure.

    Anyway, for me, these holidays continue to have an association with getting away with something.

  • Finn

    Joining with the crowd here: take the day off, and take the pay. You’re seriously going to listen to someone tell you “You can take the day off, but you only get paid for it if you’re Jewish,” and YOU’RE the one who feels bad about it? Consider yourself fortunate that because you’re ethnically Jewish it’s doubtful anyone will call you on it and take the day off.

    Imagine if they tried to pay the Christian teachers for the days school is closed over Christmas and other Christian holidays, but asserted that you had to be Christian in order to be paid. There’d be a firestorm.

    So, yeah, the system is ridiculous; just take advantage of it. They’ll probably change it next year anyway once they realise suddenly an overwhelming percentage of their teachers are Jewish on paid Jewish holidays…

  • Pamela

    Def. take off with pay. No religion should get preferential treatment!

  • Jen

    When I have observed Yom Kippur in the past, it was with my grandfather, who would get free tickets to the local service by saying that he was new in the neighborhood.

    Wait, you have to pay to go to Temple?

  • Richard Wade

    I can’t say what Julie should do. She’s got an ambiguous criteria for whatever it means to “be Jewish.” Some people here are saying she need only think about it one way and she’s not being dishonest if she takes the day off with pay, while others are saying she should go ahead and dishonestly take the paid holiday. Some of those offer justifications or rationalizations and some do not.

    I can only answer for myself. If it involves deceit, misrepresentation or rationalizing, I don’t do it, period. That’s just the way it is for me. I’m not saying I’m better, just different.

    This school district is headed for trouble if this is an example of how they are handling such things.

  • How about Option 4:

    Contact the Americans United for Separation of Church and State?

    I’m kind of serious here. Why should the only options be Work, Don’t work, but not for religious reasons, and don’t get paid; or Don’t work, for religious reasons, and get paid?

    Why should people who are taking the day off to observe a religious holiday get paid for it, while people who are taking the day off just to have a day off don’t get paid for it? Isn’t that giving preferential treatment to people of a specific religious belief?

  • dean cameron

    i’d probably take it off and feel guilty about it.

    and i’m not even jewish.

  • Vincent

    Take the day off and have your nontheistic religious observance. Enjoy the marvelous world you live on with a sense of reverence. Being an atheist and not affiliated with any religious tradition anymore, all days are basically the same so any day is open to being a holiday.
    Take it with pay and go enjoy the natural world that you are a part of.

  • Don’t take the day off but insist on wearing an eye patch to work for the entire day.


  • Julie

    If it involves deceit, misrepresentation or rationalizing, I don’t do it, period.

    Richard, I hear you. In fact, what I do for my school has to do with accountability, and there are many people who do my job who fudge the details and still get away clean when audit time comes. I never do that stuff. It’s like a joke in my office that I’m so squeaky clean and never can lie.

    That’s why I hesitated over this memo, where others would probably have checked the paid holiday without a pause. I’m annoyingly honest. At least, it annoys me sometimes. The last time I did my taxes involved several sleepless nights over some scholarship money with no 1099. I finally called the IRS to see what I should do. (The IRS are nice folks, by the way–weird that they are so very professional and helpful.) Okay, in that case, I suppose it’s more fear of getting caught and hassled later. But my conscience is irritatingly vigilant. It’s almost like I do believe I’m being watched!

  • Mark N

    I’d complain – I’m surprised they’d even consider putting forward something so blatantly discriminatory – if I want a day off, it comes out of my holiday, so I’m effectively paying for it. The very idea that I could take a day off on a whim, and not have it come out of my holiday entitlement is just bonkers.

    Add to that the fact that the number of ‘free holidays’ you get is dependent on how much you believe your imagination, and I’d be outraged.

    I really hope I’ve misread this, because the number of meek ‘just take the day off with pay’ comments is pretty scary – it’s a tacit acceptance of religious discrimination.

  • Santiago

    If they are going to pay people that go to a religious observance instead of working then everyone should be paid. This stinks of preferential treatment, as an atheist you don’t have holidays (yet, anyway), so you could never benefit from this system at all.
    This seems unfair to me, I guess the fairest option would be to both admit you’re not Jewish but still demand the day off and get paid for it as well, or at least demand one day of the year (Darwin day maybe?) in which you could ask for a paid holiday. This would be pretty messy though, so I would just take the money and the day off, guilt free since they should have offered the money to everyone.

  • not even a dilemma. Take the day, WITH PAY.

  • Not letting her get the day off with pay would be discrimination, I think somebody should bring this up to the Superintendent.

  • Luther Weeks

    If you are worried that charging religious discrimination might cause later retribution.

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation (ffrf.org) often writes letters on behalf of anonymous members to government entities to end such discriminatory practices.

    Instead of a day off, this could be a chance to strike a blow for freedom and get everyone a paid day off.

  • Jason

    Luther’s got the right idea.

  • timplausible

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve got an ethical streak running through me that would make me not want to deceive in a case like this. Because, really, it is deception. The school clearly intends the paid leave to be for those celebrating the holiday as intended. Taking the paid leave will make them believe you are taking it for this reason. This creates two problems (at minimum):

    (1) If you knowingly give the school this impression, that’s a lie, and it’s wrong. The wrongness of the policy does not make the lie less wrong.

    (2) If the school believes this, and discovers the deception later, there could be serious job repercussions.

    So, since the real issue is that the policy is discriminatory, that is what should be addressed. Either complain directly, or get assistance from an organization. There is no reason that a teacher’s religion should determine whether or not they get paid leave at a public school.

  • As highly illegal as this all sounds, it would be even more illegal for them to demand proof of religious practice. Take the money and take a stand for equality!

  • Beowulff

    Do the people who take these days off have to give up other days off? I assumed from the question they don’t, otherwise it would be a non-issue.

    That some people get extra paid holidays because of their religion is plain and simple religious discrimination, so I’m somewhat sympathetic to the argument that lying to the company is pretty much fair game, as many of the comments above seem to suggest.

    Still, I don’t think I would tick the “I plan to be out for religious observance”, since I too sometimes am too honest for my own good.

    Is there any way to protest against this arrangement? With your employer, or a worker’s council, or a union or something? They should at least offer the other employees two extra paid days off, or require the people who sign up for these days to give up on two days.

    If you bring this up, you’ll of course risk being labeled as “religiously intolerant”. It’ll probably be best to point out that this sort of preferred treatment would actually lead to more religious intolerance due to resentment. And at the very least it’ll ruin morale.

    If this isn’t up for discussion, maybe you could just add two more options to the form yourself and tick those:
    _X_ I plan to be out Sept. 30 and get paid despite not being relgious.
    _X_ I plan to be out Oct. 9 and get paid despite not being relgious.
    or maybe:
    _X_ I plan to show up for work on Sept. 30, bring my baby, and surf atheist blogs all day.
    _X_ I plan to show up for work on Oct. 9, bring my baby, and surf atheist blogs all day.
    Should get the message across, I’d say.

  • Pamela

    We have to all remember that Julie may *technically* be able to say something, but may not be *practically* able to. There may be peer pressure or hostility.

    I really do not see the ethical problem with the paid day off, since this is clearly religious discrimination by exclusion of all religions except one. Given her choices and her rights under what I assume MUST be a law in her area (for employers to not discriminate based on race, gender, creed, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or physical disability), it’s a viable option.

  • Richard Wade

    timplausible, we be of one blood, ye and I.

  • She should take the days off with pay. It just says “for religious observance” — it doesn’t specify for HER religious observance. So, she will observe that other people have funny beliefs and get to take days off with pay. Religious observance.

  • Skylar

    I guess I’m the extreme minority opinion.

    The ethical issue does bother me.

    Something about taking the high road and not stooping to their level… also not lying, even if it’s a stupid rule. White lies are one thing when no one is hurt, but money is involved, discipline or dismissal could happen for lying to your employer (though it may not be likely), basically more trouble than it’s worth.

    Though I think smoke breaks are a great analogy.

    And the school has a poor lawyer (or little/no access to him or her), and they’re trying to play it safe. Sure, you can try to fix it (and could step on toes in the process), but I doubt the offer is being made in bad faith. They’re trying to do the “right thing.” The law of the separation of church and state is complicated, and they’re doing the best they know.

    Good grief, week 6 of law school has already changed every perception I ever had…

  • Chupper

    I’m reading this a different way. If you take a day off without pay, I’m assuming that means that you are using one of your vacation days. So, you get a day off, but have one less vacation day to take later. OR, you can still take the day off for religious purposes, get a slightly smaller paycheck, but still have your full bank of vacation days to use for other purposes. I of course don’t know what the actually policy is, but Julie should clarify with the principal or school board whether some people are getting *extra* vacation days to use or if some people are just being given the opportunity to use up days from their standard vacation allotment.

    Remember people, it doesn’t do us any good to get riled up without knowing all the facts. That would make us just like christians!

  • Siamang

    If it involves deceit, misrepresentation or rationalizing, I don’t do it, period.

    I understand and appreciate that point of view.

    I also think the district is screwing people over in this instance, and she is being asked to check a box that say either “yes, I’d like to be screwed over” or “no, I will not allow you to screw me over.”

    I also think it’s totally fucked up that her employer is asking her to check a box to let them know what her religion is.

    “What’s my religion, boss? First Church of Mind Your Own Beeswax, that’s who!”

    Another way is just to send your superior a note which reads “Please let me know the precise way I can get the exact same number of paid holidays off as all of my co-workers, thanks.”

  • David D.G.

    Taking a Jewish holiday off just because you happen to be Jewish by birth, rather than to celebrate a Jewish holiday, sounds unethical to me. Heritage is NOT religion; the two are often connected, but they are not the same — otherwise, people of German descent would be lining up to take paid days off for Oktoberfest celebrations. (And a lot of folks would be scrutinizing their family trees for any sign of German ancestry!)

    That said, however, I think it is outrageous for the school to include pay for these days off strictly if one uses them for religious observances, and deny pay to others who take that same day off for whatever other reason. Those days should come out of whatever vacation time or “paid time off” each person has, and then that person can use them for whatever he likes — religious observance, going to the beach, lying in all day, or whatever. Religious observance should not get any preference whatsoever.

    The only exception should be when, as noted previously, so many people would be taking the day off for religious (or cultural) reasons that it makes no sense to keep the place open. On those occasions, treat them exactly the same way we treat Christmas vacation (now called “Winter Break”), Easter vacation (now called “Spring Break”), and other such holidays that started as holy days: Give everyone the same time off and their normal pay for it, regardless of whether they use the time for religious observance or not. To do otherwise is surely in gross violation of the First Amendment and work ethics laws.

    ~David D.G.

  • Justin

    I would just go to work. If you take the day off for a religious observance, aren’t you reinforcing the notion that religion should give you the right to take days off? Aren’t we against using religion as a tool in this way? *shrugs* Maybe that’s just me.

  • N

    Brian’s link made me laugh myassoff.

    I really think it is wrong of the school system to differentiate based on why someone wants to take the day off. Either give it to them, or don’t. As for the original question, I think it is okay for anybody to accept that day with pay. Just look at a calendar that states that it is Yom Kippur. Technically, you “observed” Yom Kippur.

    This reminds me of a similar quandry I’ve been thinking about. I’m a musician, formerly a church musician, and when I was playing in the church, I had the opportunity to take a trip to Brazil to play in the orchestra at the International Christian Women’s Conference there. I went, and it was an amazing trip.

    Fast forward to now; I no longer really consider myself christian. I guess at this point I’m really agnostic, because I don’t know what I think. So, if I get another invitation to a music mission, would it be wrong of me to go? It’s not like I’m going to be proselytising; I’d be playing music to already christian audiences – but I would be misrepresenting myself. And it’s not like I’d be taking money from anyone to go; we pay our own way.

    Wow. Didn’t really mean to make this about me. But I’d love to hear opinions…

  • Julie

    I do not have an answer for you about your mission trip, N, but here is what I decided to do, and I hope it will satisfy the non-deceitful among you, since I consider myself to be non-deceitful by nature.

    I sent an email to my union representative that said:

    I believe this year’s policy of letting us take paid holidays only if we are Jewish and observing Yom Kippur and Rosh Hoshanah is possibly discriminatory. There is no reason that employees of certain religions should get extra paid time off.

    On the other hand, the memo we received does not state which religion we are out observing, so I suppose we could just enjoy a beautiful day with family, worshipping life and all it has to offer like good atheists–and collect our holiday pay.

    Since being Jewish is a birthright, I intend to take the days paid. However, I still object to this policy on the grounds that it affords preferential treatment to employees who are Jewish. Indeed, since Judaism is most often a club we’re born into, the policy is more discriminatory than one that gives special treatment to Christians. It’s easy to convert to Christianity, or so I hear.

    My intention is to take the days off and spend them with my family, who do not get to see my baby as much as they would like. My family are all Jewish, but they are too old to schlep over to the temple for high holidays. Actually, Aunt Rose might make it, and in that case, we’ll visit with her afterwards. For all intents and purposes, I am celebrating the Jewish holidays by paying respect to my Jewish family. So there is no dishonesty involved, and I’ve made my protest.

    By the way, our union rep at school was brought up Jewish Orthodox, and he is now a devout atheist, so I’m sure he will be on the same page.


  • Julie

    Oh, and yes, one must pay to go to temple on the high holidays. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe some real Jews on here know the answer. But I think it’s because so many of us don’t go to temple except for the holidays. I believe there is no charge for the rest of the year.

  • Julie

    Uh, and NO, these days do not cut into other vacation time. They really are extra holidays. Vacation time does not work the same for teachers as it does for other regular employees, at least not in my teaching job.

  • How about writing in that I plan on taking the day off with pay, not to observe any religious holiday but to go to the magistrate’s office to file papers pursuant to violations of the Establishment clause.

  • Cass

    I thought this would be a no brainer. I’m not religious so I would not take a day off with pay – I would find that unethical.

    I do think a better way to do this would be to designate a few floater days that people could take off. Whether for a religious day or an awesome weather day would be at the discretion of the user.

  • julie

    Ha ha–didn’t do it! I talked to my principal about it. Turns out these days are “personal necessity” and come out of that bank of days. And anybody can use them for any religion. It’s just that there are so many Jewish employees that the principal wanted to find out how many subs he needs! So now that’s clear, and I didn’t feel right taking the day off. Stupid conscience.

  • Steven

    I’d like to propose a new policy in which, in order to avoid discrimination, everyone gets all the religious holidays currently celebrated worldwide as paid days off.
    I don’t think anyone would have to work more than a handful of days all year!
    Sadly, I don’t think my company would go for it.
    I recall that my university used to close for Jewish holidays just because of it’s background as a primarily Jewish university decades ago. I just appreciated the days off and had no real understanding of their significance.
    Anything that adds a day off to the calendar is a good thing – in Ontario the provincial government has added a February 18th “Family Day” holiday just because there were no holidays that month (and they wanted to win the election).

  • Student

    I am non-religious Jew who celebrates Rosh Hashana for cultural reasons. I find the entire scenario presented completely inequitable. What is offered to one employee should be offered to every other employee. Ideally, this teacher could make a stink about the fact that some people must work more than others (the holiday observers should be allowed to SWITCH days with others, not get freebies). However, that may be an non-pc hassle, so perhaps she should just take the day off with pay as a holiday. It is fibbing, which isn’t right, but certainly neither is making her work an extra day or forcing her to take a day off without pay when others don’t have to do the same.

error: Content is protected !!