Should we recognize 9/11 as a federal holiday?

September 11, 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Officials across the country are expected to organize ceremonies in honor of Patriot’s Day, which is not a federal holiday (and schools and businesses do not close), but is a national day of remembrance.

Meantime, New York legislators are pushing to make it a public holiday to honor its fallen victims. Earlier this week, Assemblyman Michael Lawler, R-Pearl River introduced changes to the state’s laws in the hopes of accomplishing this in the very near future.

“Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives, including approximately 400 New York City police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and other rescue personnel,” Lawler wrote in a statement.

“The impact on our city, state, and nation cannot be understated. As citizens, we come together to mourn the passing of family, friends and loved ones, but as a nation we unite in our strength and in our perseverance.”

What happens on a day of remembrance

In 2019, former New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo signed state legislation that officially recognized September 11th as a day of remembrance into law, as it is on a national level.

U.S. flags fly at half-staff, teachers are encouraged to discuss the attacks with their students, and Americans are asked to commit a moment of silence for the 3,000 lives lost in the towers, at the Pentagon in Virginia, and on Flight 93, beginning at 8:46 a.m. — which is the time that the first airplane struck the World Trade Center.

If legislation passes to turn the day of remembrance into an official federal holiday, state offices and schools would close every year on the date. If the day is ever honored as a national holiday, this would apply to the entire country not just New York state.

“As with other national and state holidays in which we reflect upon those who bravely defended our country and our freedoms, so too should we gather to recognize the courage of those members of the NYPD, FDNY, the EMT’s, and all other rescue personnel who threw themselves into harm’s way to save lives,” Lawler said.

Why 9/11 may never be a recognized holiday

It’s hard to imagine that an event as devastating and culturally impactful as 9/11 isn’t recognized as a national or federal holiday, but there are reasons why this may never come to fruition.

Besides the fact that there have only been four new federal holidays in the last century, some feel that making 9/11 synonymous with a day off could cheapen the day’s intention.

“I think right now the thinking in Congress is there are too many federal holidays,” explained Donald Wolfensberger, a former House Rules Committee staffer who now specializes in Congress at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

“So it’s a question of how you commemorate an incident: Do you have to give all federal workers a day off to make it significant? I don’t think so.”

Others have pointed out that the vast majority of federal and national holidays recognize triumphant moments in the nation’s history, not tragedies.

“That’s not to say hundreds of thousands of lives were not lost in some wars celebrated through Memorial Day or Veterans Day, but those are, in essence, celebrations,” Brian Balogh, a historian at the University of Virginia told USA Today.

Economists estimate that a paid holiday for federal employees can could taxpayers more than $430 million in pay and lost productivity.

Balogh agrees with Wolfensberger’s point about how making 9/11 a federal holiday could cause us to lose site of how tragic the day was for so many, citing President’s Day as an example.

“It’s a holiday, a day off, and it does become a day to extend your vacation or go to an amusement park,” he concluded.

“And I’m not blaming people for that: I think they simply just lose the meaning of the original historical moment. That’s human nature.”