Public holiday on Good Friday abolished in Austria

Bishop Michael Bünker from the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria explains the church's position regarding Austrian parliament's Good Friday decision. Photo: ECACA/Uschmann
Bishop Michael Bünker from the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria explains the church's position regarding Austrian parliament's Good Friday decision. Photo: ECACA/Uschmann

Lutherans say decision follows “economic interests” and “has broken a public promise”

(LWI) – The Austrian parliament has abolished Good Friday as a public holiday, a decision which affects members of the Evangelical Churches of the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions, the Old Catholic Church and the Methodist Church. This is an “intervention in Protestants’ freedom of religious practice,” says Bishop Dr Michael Bünker, head of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria.

The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria is a founding member church of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

The parliament’s decision, which has created quite a stir among minority Protestants in largely Catholic Austria, follows a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union. In January it ruled that “granting a paid public holiday to employees who are members of certain churches constitutes discrimination on grounds of religion” and that the Austrian government should amend its legislation. The Austrian parliament (Nationalrat) subsequently voted to revoke the legislation which has existed since 1955.

“A broken public promise”

During a session of its synod on 9 March, the Evangelical Church A. B. in Austria criticized and rejected the new status. “Good Friday is a central holy day for Protestant churches as churches of the Reformation,” a resolution adopted by the governing body stated. “In view of the persecution, oppression and disadvantages they suffered up until the First Republic [from 1919], it is the most important public holiday for Protestants when it comes to defining their identity.”

Good Friday is of central importance for all Christians, not just for Protestants.
Resolution of the synod of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria

The synod resolution continued that Good Friday was of central importance for all Christians, not just for Protestants, stating that Christians believe in the God who became human, “who – out of infinite love – suffered and died on the cross to reconcile people and the world to himself. Jesus’ death is at the heart of the history of salvation. Yet the cross would be meaningless for us without the resurrection. The risen Jesus is the resurrected Christ Crucified, who is recognized by his wounds.”

Bishop Bünker subsequently wrote to the parishes of the church. In his letter he stated that the government’s new Good Friday decision “one-sidedly follows economic interests – and has broken a public promise.”

Business associations had protested against introducing another public holiday in Austria, arguing that Good Friday is a particularly good day for retailers. The tourism industry also protested to a proposal of exchanging Monday after Pentecost for Good Friday.

The church was not consulted in the initial decision by the federal government but will “continue to work for a better solution that does not discriminate against any religious community” and will look into legal steps against this legislation Büncker explains.

Calling for ecumenical support

Solidarity has now come from neighboring Germany. Bishop Dr Frank Otfried July, chairperson of the LWF German National Committee and head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg, called for ecumenical support urging the the Roman Catholic Church “to support the appeal of the Evangelical Church of Austria A. B. and advocate for Good Friday to become a public holiday for the whole population.”

Petra Bosse-Huber, bishop for ecumenical relations of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), has also expressed her solidarity with the Austrian church, writing that she encourages “every effort to protect Good Friday as a statutory public holiday for all.”