"Tyson Plant Drops Labor Day for Muslim Holiday":

So reports Fox News:

A 5-year contract approved by members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union at the Shelbyville, Tenn., [Tyson Foods] plant last November includes the change [of paid holidays to exclude Labor Day and instead include the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday] to accommodate Muslim workers....

The seven additional paid holidays are the employee's birthday, New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mickelson said....

Tyson officials said that approximately 250 of the plant's 1,200 employees are Somalis who entered the United States as political refugees. Most, if not all, are believed to be Muslim ....

Tyson officials said the contract was agreed to by 80 percent of the union's 1,000 members at the plant.

This year Eid al-Fitr falls on Oct. 1.

English First, in a seemingly non-English-related objection (or is it that they just don't like the Arabic name?), complains:

English First today denounced as multiculturalism run amok a decision by a Tennessee Tyson Foods poultry plant to eliminate Labor Day as a paid holiday for employees and replace it with a paid observance of a Muslim holy day....

A new immigrant to America, legal or illegal, enjoys more rights than taxpaying American citizens, Boulet said. The notion that immigrants should adapt to America is being destroyed one bilingual education class, one press one for English, and one ACLU-approved Muslim foot-washing bath at a time.

Bill Poser's post at Language Log brought this to my attention, and I agree with him that this is entirely fine. "You might think that this is the kind of thing that labor unions are supposed to do: negotiate holidays that are convenient for their members." The business wins, the Muslim members win, and it seems like the non-Muslim members are generally quite happy, too, judging by the vote.

But more importantly, America was expressly not founded on the notion that immigrants should adapt to America's religious beliefs. Indeed, some of the most important early colonies were settled by people who didn't want to adapt to English religious beliefs, and while some of them did promptly try to expel or exclude people who wouldn't accept the colonies' new religious orthodoxy, thankfully that largely disappeared by the Founding of the nation, and religious tolerance -- including accommodation of minority religious groups -- continued to increase since then. Jews were allowed to come to America without rejecting their own religious beliefs (for an early and surprising legal accommodation of Jewish religious beliefs, see here). Quakers' and other groups' opposition to swearing oaths is expressly accommodated by several provisions in the Constitution, which allow affirmations instead of oaths. More recently, businesses and schools with large Jewish workforces or student bodies have set up some Jewish holy days as days off. The same should apply to Muslims.

Not all religious beliefs, of course, have been accommodated, and not all should be accommodated. But requests from minority religious groups (including recent immigrant groups) for accommodation are a longstanding and respectable part of the American tradition of religious freedom. Where religious pluralism goes, multiculturalism is indeed a traditional American value. And the union vote at the Tyson plan is not "multiculturalism run amok" -- it's the American tradition of religious tolerance and religious accommodation working as it should be.

Finally, just to respond to the anticipated complaints about Islam being special because of the violence of some Muslim extremists, or even the endorsement of religious violence by substantial numbers of Muslims around the globe: None of this has anything to do with whether Somali immigrant Muslims working at a meatpacking plant should get a day off. When someone suggests religious accommodations aimed at letting people (of whatever religion) contribute to terrorist organizations, or engage in suicide bombings, I'll happily agree that they should be rejected -- just as religiously motived attacks on abortion clinics and other sorts of religious violence should remain fully punishable. But that some of the Somali-born meatpackers' coreligionists are doing bad things based on bad ideas doesn't make it the desire to have Eid al-Fitr off any less legitimate.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Religious Accommodations:
  2. "Tyson Plant Drops Labor Day for Muslim Holiday":
Religious Accommodations:

My post on religious accommodations, and in particular the statement, "But requests from minority religious groups (including recent immigrant groups) for accommodation are a longstanding and respectable part of the American tradition of religious freedom," drew this response from a commenter:

Correction: It's not part of American tradition but part of a U.S. Supreme Court adventurism under the faulty disguise it has the power to dictate social religious preferences within states.


1. None of the examples I gave are U.S.-Supreme-Court-mandated religious accommodations; all were done by the democratic process.

2. While from 1963 to 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court read the Constitution as mandating some sorts of religious accommodations, the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith decision almost entirely rejected that doctrine. The rule right now is that the Free Exercise Clause almost never mandates religious exemptions from generally applicable laws. (I have written in support of the Smith constitutional rule.)

3. Following the Smith decision, it was Congress that enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which provided that governments have to exempt religious objectors from generally applicable laws that burdened their religious practices (unless applying the law to the objector was necessary to serve a compelling government interest). Congress voted in favor of RFRA by a 97-3 vote in the Senate and by voice vote with no objection in the House.

4. It was then the Supreme Court, in 1997, that struck down RFRA as it applied to states. State legislatures in about a dozen states, and state voters in Alabama, have since enacted state-level RFRAs that do apply to state laws. (State supreme courts in about a dozen more states have also read their state constitutions as mandating some sorts of exemptions from generally applicable laws.)

So you can fault the Court for lots of things, but don't turn hostility to the Court -- or even to constitutional constraints on legislative action more broadly -- into a macro (ctrl-shift-A for "activism") that becomes a blanket response to everything. The American tradition of religious accommodation has generally been a tradition of accommodation precisely by the political branches of government.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Religious Accommodations:
  2. "Tyson Plant Drops Labor Day for Muslim Holiday":