LANSING (MIRS News) – There’s this 61-foot-tall blue spruce sticking out of the concrete in front of the Capitol. It’s called a Christmas tree, recognized by Christians as a symbol for their religious holiday. This year it was trucked down from the Upper Peninsula specifically to be stuck in the same spot its fore-trees have gone in for around 20 years.
Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) wants to put a large menorah nearby as a public celebration of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
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Moss, Rep. Robert Wittenberg (D-Huntington Woods) and Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.) are working together to try to make that happen.
On Thursday, Moss introduced SCR 15, which would urge the Michigan State Capitol Commission to allow a menorah to be placed on the Capitol grounds for the duration of the holiday season. Currently, menorahs and other religious displays are not allowed to stay up over night. They’re also limited to four feet in heights to prevent clutter.
“We’re playing favorites by allowing this Christmas tree to stay up there,” Moss said.
He’s not alone.
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said when he recently visited Texas, he saw both a Christmas tree and Menorah, the holiday candelabra that symbolizing the Jewish holiday, prominently displayed in front of their Capitol. Schor will officially light the Christmas tree at the conclusion of the Silver Bells parade the Friday after next.
“I’d love to be able to light a menorah at the same time,” Schor said. “I don’t know why we can’t do that in Michigan.”
The reason dates back to 2006 when the House passed a resolution renaming the Winter Holiday Tree the “Christmas Tree and Hanukkah Menorah Holidays Display.” At the time it was a thumb in the eye of Gov. Jennifer Granholm who insisted on calling it a Holiday Tree.
House Clerk Gary Randall said the Capitol Committee at the time was prepared to approve the joint display, but Susan Herman, director of the Michigan Jewish Conference, opposed it. She said there must be a separation of church and state.
The tree may have seasonal connections to the Christian holiday of Christmas, but the menorah is unquestionably a religious symbol and Herman didn’t believe it was proper to put in front of the Capitol.
So, they didn’t. Instead, the Capitol Committee, set rules for displays. They couldn’t be bigger than four feet. They had to be taken down after every day so the Michigan State Police wasn’t charge with guarding the symbols every night.
Of course, if the Legislature in 2019 passed a concurrent resolution urging the commission to allow for a menorah on the lawn up through the Holidays, “we’d certainly give that sentiment strong consideration,” Randall said. But until it hears something different from the House and Senate, it’s going to be business as usual.
In the meantime, someone will need to continue the tradition of former Rep. Mike Callton of putting the four-foot menorah on the Capitol lawn in the morning and taking it down at night.
It’ll likely be with a Nativity scene set up by Rep. Luke Meerman. Maybe the Satanists will bring their goat head back. Maybe the Flying Spaghetti Monster will make a return, as well.
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