There’s that 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 wedged into 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, an eight-day “festival of lights,” which this year begins Dec. 22. He has support from a pair of House members and Lansing Mayor Andy Schor.
Last week, Moss introduced SCR 15, which would urge the Michigan State Capitol Commission to allow a large menorah to be placed on the Capitol grounds for the duration of the holiday season. Currently, menorahs and other religious displays are limited to 4 feet in height and can’t stay up over night.
“We’re playing favorites by allowing this Christmas tree to stay up there,” Moss said.
He’s not alone.
Schor said when he recently visited Texas, he saw both a Christmas tree and a menorah, the holiday candelabra that symbolizing the Jewish holiday, prominently displayed in front of the state Capitol in Austin. Schor will officially light the Christmas tree at the conclusion of the Silver Bells parade Nov. 22.
“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 and Senate passed resolutions 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 called the oversized conifer 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.
Of course, if the Legislature in 2019 passed a concurrent resolution urging the commission to allow for a menorah on the lawn 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.
Business as usual is someone continuing the tradition of former Rep. Mike Callton of putting the 4-foot-high 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, taking over for Sen. Rick Jones. Maybe the Satanists will bring their goat head back. Maybe the Flying Spaghetti Monster will make a return, as well.