Goodbye darkness, hello sunshine! Lawmakers could soon make daylight saving time permanent in the United States. The Sunshine Protection Act might protect sunshine. But according to Jewish Americans, it doesn’t protect religious liberty.
Benjamin Franklin first suggested an idea similar to daylight saving time in 1784. Americans didn’t start “falling back” and “springing forward” until 1918. But the time change can cause confusion. On winter days, darkness comes early, making the whole day feel shorter. Some people experience “seasonal depression” in those months when work and school prevent them from experiencing natural sunlight.
The Sunshine Protection Act passed the U.S. Senate on March 15. If passed by the House as well, this act would extend daylight saving time to the whole year. No more confusing clock changes. Sunrise would come a bit later, but Americans would enjoy more hours of sunshine after work and school. America rejoiced!
Well, not all of America rejoiced. Jewish people say that all-year daylight saving would impede morning prayers.
According to Jewish law, morning prayers must happen after sunrise. The morning prayer service, called “Shacharit,” can last 30 to 40 minutes. After that, many Jewish people still need to get to work or school.
But permanent daylight saving would shorten the time between sunrise and work hours. In some places, sunrise would occur after 8 a.m. for 131 days of the year. Some days, the Sun might not rise until 9 a.m.
In modern times, we think of the day in terms of hours on a clock. But Shacharit dates back to the time of Abraham, when people thought of the day in terms of sunset and sunrise. Jewish rules don’t fit modern ways of thinking about time.
Many Jewish people already experience this tension with the Jewish Sabbath, called Shabbat. They observe Shabbat on Saturday, but it begins at sunset Friday evening. Employers know that Jewish employees need to leave early on Friday if the Sun sets before work hours end.
But what about arriving late every morning because of prayer? Many Jewish people worry that would be too much.
Christians believe in constant prayer. (1 Thessalonians 5:17) We worship God anywhere at any time—in Spirit and in truth. But we should care when laws affect other religious groups, even if those laws don’t appear to trouble us. If lawmakers can make it harder for Jewish people to attend Shacharit, couldn’t they someday make it harder for Christians to attend Sunday worship?
For now, Jewish Americans plan to fight the Sunshine Protection Act.
Why? Laws that seem good can have unintended consequences for religious liberty. When laws impair religious freedom for one group, they could also impact religious freedom for everyone.