Why Are Lawmakers Moving to Make English Michigan’s Official Language?

The state House’s quick and unexpected action on the bill this week has some Capitol watchers scratching their heads.

Michigan State Capitol building on a cloudy day

Jake Neher/WDET

A bill to make English the official language of Michigan is moving through the state Legislature.

The House approved the bill this week. It’s now up to the Senate whether to send it to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

The bill cleared the House on a mostly party-line vote.

House Republicans say Michigan should join 32 other states that have declared English their official language. Democrats say the bill sends the wrong message to foreigners and immigrants.

Democratic state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) said the bill taps into a dark place in current politics, and is a distraction from real issues.

“Have you nothing more important to do than to pass a bill to make people feel less American?” said Hammoud.

Bill sponsor Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) said his bill would simply allow Michigan to join the majority of other states that have declared English their official language. 

“So many people are afraid to acknowledge or ask questions of one another today because we are hyper-offended society,” said Barrett. “Having a common language allows us to talk to one another, learn from one another, and learn about those differences and different experiences that we’ve had.” 

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) says the bill is not a priority in his chamber.

WDET’s Jake Neher and Michigan Public Radio’s Cheyna Roth talk about why this bill has a lot of Capitol watchers scratching their heads.

Click on the audio player above to hear that conversation.


  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.