Proposal would protect right of college students to wear religious attire

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Rep. Samantha Strekloff, D-Farmington Hills.

Michigan House of Representatives

Rep. Samantha Strekloff, D-Farmington Hills.

By ELIJAH TAUB
Capital News Service

LANSING – The Michigan House has been looking over legislation that would prohibit public and private higher education institutions from discriminating against students based on religious clothing. 

The bills bring into question why the current statewide civil rights law may fail to include protections against such discrimination. 

They would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 and the Revised School Code to protect against discrimination based on religious attire and accessories, such as hijabs for Muslims, yarmulkes and Stars of David for Jews and crosses for Christians.

No explicit provision in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on religious clothing and items. 

The protections would apply to graduation ceremonies as well, so students could wear religious clothing and other items on stage. 

The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Samantha Strekloff, D-Farmington Hills. Cosponsors include Reps. Phil Skaggs, D-East Grand Rapids, Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit, and Jenn Hill, D-Marquette.

The legislation also recognizes that there are items and clothing with cultural significance for  Indigenous peoples that may not be religious but would still have to be allowed in higher education institutions. 

“To allow them to wear that beaded cap or feather, allows them to carry their ancestors forward with them,” said Jesse Ward, a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

Strekloff said, “The ability to wear culturally significant and traditional attire can be so meaningful for students. It connects them to the past and gives them a strong foundation to build toward the future.”

In Michigan, about 4.7% of discrimination charges were based on religion from 2009 to 2022, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In comparison to other states, Michigan ranks 28th in the percentage of discrimination charges being religion-related.

The bills are being reviewed by the House Higher Education Committee. The Department of Civil Rights hasn’t taken a position on the legislation.