March 29, 2010— -- One week before the most solemn day in the Christian year, the city of Davenport, Iowa removed Good Friday from its municipal calendar, setting off a storm of complaints from Christians and union members whose contracts give them that day off.
Taking a recommendation by the Davenport Civil Rights Commission to change the holiday's name to something more ecumenical, City Administrator Craig Malin sent a memo to municipal employees announcing Good Friday would officially be known as "Spring Holiday."
"My phone has been ringing off the hook since Saturday," said city council alderman Bill Edmond. "People are genuinely upset because this is nothing but political correctness run amok."
Edmond said the city administrator made the change unilaterally and did not bring it to the council for a vote, a requirement for a change in policy.
"The city council didn't know anything about the change. We were blind sided and now we've got to clean this mess up. How do you tell people the city renamed a 2,000 year old holiday?" said Edmond.
It didn't take long for the city the resurrect the name Good Friday. Malin was overruled today and the words "Spring Holiday" disappeared.
Good Friday commemorates the day Jesus was crucified and died. Christians celebrate his resurrection the following Sunday, Easter.
The Civil Rights Commission said it recommended changing the name to better reflect the city's diversity and maintain a separation of church and state when it came to official municipal holidays.
"We merely made a recommendation that the name be changed to something other than Good Friday," said Tim Hart, the commission's chairman. "Our Constitution calls for separation of church and state. Davenport touts itself as a diverse city and given all the different types of religious and ethnic backgrounds we represent, we suggested the change."
News of the change could not have come at more significant time in the Christian calendar. News of the name change spread through the town on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, becoming a topic of conversation at church services throughout Davenport.
Davenport Dispute Over Good Friday
"If you deny the idea of Good Friday then you have to deny Easter," Monsignor Robert Schmidt told ABC affiliate WQAD.
Hart said the commission had no plans to change the name of Easter Sunday, because it fell on a weekend and government offices were already closed. The commission, he said, discussed changing Christmas, but decided enough other religions celebrate Christmas too. Hart, however, could not name one.
The religious right has attacked town governments that have removed public Christmas displays, calling such practices a "war on Christmas."
City employees, beginning with local police, feared the name change would violate their union contracts with the city, which specifies Good Friday as an official municipal holiday. Employees that work city holidays are paid time and a half.
Davenport officials called the name change an "error."
"The City of Davenport will be observing "Good Friday" as a City Holiday on April 2," read a statement released today.
"City Administrator Malin, in error, forwarded the recommendation to staff for further review and action, leading to release of a holiday notice with the holiday named 'Spring Holiday,' rather than "Good Friday," read the release.
Davenport's mayor said people were right to be angry but that Good Friday would continue to be acknowledged.
"I understand why people were so upset," said Mayor Bill Gluba. "My position is we have a lot more important issues. We'll fix this and move on."
This story was revised at 5:50pm ET