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State holiday legislation passes Michigan House

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Michigan bills to recognize religious holidays besides Christmas passed the state House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The bills would add a handful of observances from various cultures and religions to the list of official state holidays. Those include celebrations from Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and East and Southeast Asian traditions.

State Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills) co-sponsored the bill package. She said religious minorities have long felt marginalized, especially seeing the state mark Christmas but no other religious observance.

“We have freedom of religion here and that includes all religions. And to strictly only, I guess, observe only one is difficult but it’s something that we’ve dealt with for forever. But the fact is no one has to deal with it anymore,” Steckloff said.

The legislation now goes to the state Senate for that chamber’s consideration. It passed the House with varying, but steady, bipartisan support.

But critics like Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Port Huron) voted no. He said he doesn’t believe the state calendar needs to include religious holidays.

“You kind of have to ask is it our job to recognize religious holidays. And you know the rebuttal’s going to be well what about the Christian holidays? Christmas and Easter. I don’t celebrate Christmas and Easter because they’re state holidays. I recognize them because I’m a practicing Catholic,” Beeler said.

When it comes to religious holidays, Michigan currently only recognizes Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

In the past, not marking religious observances has held broader implications. Last year, count day, a day that helps determine school funding, fell on Yom Kippur, a Jewish high holiday.

Beeler said it’s possible to legislatively provide work arounds to avoid those conflicts without creating new state holidays.

“Religious people will practice religious holidays regardless of whether they’re on the state calendar or not,” Beeler said.

Supporters of the legislation say it’s about inclusion and respect for religious and cultural minorities.

Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield), who co-sponsored the package along with Steckloff and others, compared it to a symbolic recognition of the state’s diversity.

“Symbolic doesn’t mean meaningless. Symbolic means that we are actually providing meaning and recognition to communities that have struggled for it for a long time and haven’t received it,” Arbit said.

Arbit clarified making a day a state holiday wouldn’t automatically make the day a bank holiday where people would have the day off from work.

This year, the state celebrated 13 days as official holidays. The proposed legislation would add seven more days to that total.

Copyright 2023 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.