Christmas Holidays, Federal Employees, Atheists and Lawsuits

If email from our readers is a reliable guide, a burning question on the minds of many is “will President Bush give us an extra holiday on December 26th?” But what about the separation of church and state? Should federal employees get the day off to celebrate a religious holiday?

It’s the Christmas season or, if the term offends you, this is the annual Holiday Season. As America changes, so do the products you can buy to celebrate your personal beliefs. If the idea of Christmas as a holiday or religious celebration offends you, a line of “Athiest Christmas cards” is now available to you.

This time of year always generates the question: “What will I get for Christmas?”

In this vein, the most common question, by far, in the random email that we have received reads something like this: “When will President Bush announce December 26th as a holiday for federal employees?” And, of course, some readers phrase the question along these lines: “Will we get a paid holiday this year since Christmas is on a Thursday this year?”

There is even a rumor going around that the President has already made a decision and already signed an executive order, informing federal agencies of the fact but has not yet formally issued the order.

Perhaps the rumor is entirely true. If so, a large bureaucracy with millions of people wanting to know if they will have a paid holiday on December 26th has managed to keep the document hidden, despite the fact it is rumored to have already been sent out to agency heads. I would put this rumor in the “highly unlikely” category.

So as not to keep you in suspense, no announcement has been made and the President doesn’t have to make an announcement if he chooses not to create an extra paid holiday for federal employees.

Timing and Propriety of an Extra Holiday

In fact, some readers have made the observation in their comments that giving federal employees an extra paid holiday this year would be inappropriate. Those with this point of view point out many Americans are experiencing the full impact of a recession with a loss of jobs, a rise in unemployment, and cutting of benefits and pay and companies struggle to stay afloat.

Federal employees, on the other hand, are getting an average pay increase of 3.9% in 2009, the federal government is hiring and has much higher job security than those in the private sector and already have a generous leave program and get 10 holidays a year now.

On the other hand, many (probably most) readers seem to think that this view is too narrow. Several readers have commented that federal employees are not appreciated by the public and do not get the recognition they deserve despite their hard work on behalf of the country. Another point of view is that no work gets done on that day anyway and the government should acknowledge that and save energy by closing federal buildings and at least save money on energy costs.

If federal employees are going to get the day off, chances are you will hear about it this week. In 2003, President Bush announced on December 9th that December 26 would be a paid holiday for federal employees, In 2007, he announced an extra paid Christmas holiday on December 6th. But, under slightly different circumstances, President Bush announced on December 19, 2002, that federal employees would have a half-day off on Christmas Eve which fell on a Tuesday that year.

Religion and Federal Employees Celebrating Christmas

Federal employees take the holiday seriously. In fact, three federal employees went to federal court a few years ago to preserve Christmas as a federal holiday. Richard Ganulin, an attorney who filed the lawsuit on his own behalf, said the government illegally endorsed a Christian religious occasion by making Christmas a holiday. Three federal employees were represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in opposing the lawsuit with the argument that  “The Supreme Court has long recognized that religion is part of the fabric of our society and culture, and government need not pretend otherwise.”

That issue appears to have been settled. If you were worried about the issue, it appears to be a moot point. You can still get the day off, celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, be a valuable federal employee and comply with the requirements of the U.S. Constitution.

And What About an Extra Holiday to Ring in the New Year?

Some readers have opined they would like to have an extra holiday on January 2nd since it falls on a Thursday. If history is any guide, you should be happy getting an extra day in December. Giving federal employees an extra day off around January 1st has not been a popular tradition for American presidents. With history as your guide, you may want to request leave for the day after the new year starts if you want the day off. If you were working for the federal government during the administration of President Richard Nixon, you got an extra day off on Friday, December 31, 1973. I was not able to find a date since where this occurred.

President Nixon also moved many holidays to the nearest Monday so that many Americans ended up with a 3-day weekend. That occurred in 1971. But, while many Americans may be grateful for the extra three day weekends, it didn’t help his place in history as he is known primarily for having resigned rather than face impeachment proceedings as a result of the Watergate scandal.

When or if President Bush decides to grant another holiday for federal employees on December 26th of this year by issuing an Executive Order, we will let you know right away.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47