Mich. Capitol conifer re-christened ‘Christmas tree’

Thursday, November 30, 2006

LANSING, Mich. — That big tree that stands in front of the Michigan Capitol? The one with all the lights and decorations?

It's a Christmas tree, a state committee decided yesterday, not a holiday tree.

The bipartisan Michigan Capitol Committee voted unanimously to rename the tree at the request of Republican lawmakers.

“A Christmas tree is a Christmas tree,” said state Rep. Robert Gosselin, R-Troy.

The state House had urged the panel to create a joint display of the Christmas tree and a Hanukkah menorah, calling it the “Christmas Tree and Hanukkah Menorah Holidays Display.” But the committee decided against the menorah after a Jewish group said it's a religious symbol and would violate the separation of church and state.

Susan Herman, director of the Michigan Jewish Conference, said her group had no problem with renaming the tree.

“If you're going to have a tree, you might as well call it what it is,” Herman said.

A new sign designating it a Christmas tree could be up within days, said Jerry Lawler, Capitol facilities director. The 61-foot blue spruce was donated by Liz Valencia of Hancock and was chosen by the state Department of Management and Budget and the Michigan Association of Timbermen.

The decision by the 12-member panel of lawmakers to rename the tree was criticized by the Michigan chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The group argued that many residents would prefer that government not get involved in the “political” issue.

“I think holiday tree is a wonderful name,” said Hal Downs, the Michigan chapter's president. “Holiday tree is a more than acceptable title for everyone. Whenever you blend the raw power of government with religion, both sides lose.”

The tree that decorates the Capitol grounds each holiday season has officially been called a holiday tree since the early 1990s.

When the state Senate passed a symbolic resolution a year ago saying the holiday tree should be renamed a Christmas tree, the debate got heated.

One Republican criticized “elites” for attacking people of faith and forcing the tree to have a politically correct designation, while Democrats accused the GOP of going overboard with inflammatory comments.

The Capitol Committee has four members each from the House, Senate and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration.

Tags: , , , ,