Bill to make Bible official state book goes to Tenn. governor

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NASHVILLE — Tennessee is poised to make history as the first state in the nation to recognize the Holy Bible as its official book.

After nearly 30 minutes of debate, the state Senate on Monday (April 4) approved the measure, sponsored by state Sen. Steve Southerland, with a 19-8 vote, sending the legislation to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.

While proponents stressed the historic significance of the holy book and its religious meaning, opponents argue that the bill trivializes something they hold sacred.


READ: Mississippi’s ‘religious freedom’ bill moves to governor amid gay-rights protests

Both Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris opposed the measure.

Haslam and Attorney General Herbert Slatery have expressed constitutional concerns regarding the legislation. Slatery issued an opinion last year suggesting that the measure would violate separation of church and state provisions in the federal and state constitutions.

If Haslam signs the bill, the Bible would join a list of state symbols such as the raccoon as the state’s wild animal, the Eastern box turtle as the state reptile, the square dance as the state folk dance, milk as the official state beverage and the Barrett M82 sniper rifle as the official state rifle, which lawmakers approved earlier in the session.

All state symbols are listed in the Tennessee Blue Book, an annual guide to state government.

Although the House narrowly approved the measure last year with a 55-38 vote, the bill was thought to be dead after the Senate sent it to a committee, effectively killing the legislation for the year.

The effort, however, was revived last week and was given approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held its final meeting for the year March 29.

To address the constitutional concerns, last year the House sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton, tried to amend the legislation to make Andrew Jackson’s Bible the official state book, but that effort failed.

Haslam’s decision on whether to sign the bill into law will likely draw national attention.

Tennessee lawmakers are not alone in an attempt to make the Bible their official state book. Last year, legislators in Mississippi and Louisiana took similar approaches but ultimately failed to pass their version of the Bible bill.

In Alabama the Bible used to swear in Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederate States is the state’s official Bible, but not the state’s official book.

Other states have proposed or named official state books.

In 2003 Massachusetts named “Make Way for Ducklings” the official children’s book. Minnesota lawmakers once considered making Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” their state book.

It remains unclear whether opponents of Tennessee’s Bible bill will take the issue to court should Haslam sign the measure.

Before the chamber’s vote on Monday, ACLU-Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said her organization is hopeful the governor will veto the bill.

Since becoming governor in 2011, Haslam has rarely used his veto power.

(Joel Ebert writes for The Tennessean)

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  • I would like to nominate Bozo as the Tennessee state idol.

  • “opponents argue that the bill trivializes something they hold sacred.”

    Well this opponent think it trivializes the US Constitution.
    “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion…”

    Religion is fundamentally at odds with liberty.

    “When a religion is good..it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign..of its being a bad one.”
    ~ Founding Father Benjamin Franklin,
    letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780

    It is shameful how far away America has strayed from separation of church and state.

  • Peter

    As posted on Facebook: Which Bible is the state of Tennessee recognizing? Is it the King James Bible and, if so, which version? Could it be the Living Bible, the New Century Version, the Septuagint, the Wiclif translation, the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Noli New Testament, the Darby Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the Reader’s Digest Bible? If the state of Tennessee picks one or another is that not an endorsement of one particular religious view — and maybe not yours? How will the state accommodate Stone Worshippers, Native Americans and those who celebrate Festivus? Does Tennessee want to be the scene of a second Scopes-like trial — the original one took place in Dayton, TN.

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  • Damn, where do you find these, gems???? The Bible right up there with, let me
    get this right: 1) The Raccoon, 2) the Easter Box turtle, 3) Square dancing,
    and most of all the 5) BARRETT M22 SNIPER RIFLE?
    Is God listening, I hope so, and I hope, no I pray that God has a sense of humor.
    Now I wonder are you “pulling our legs???????