The Bible could soon be the official state book of Tennessee. Lawmakers in the state approved a bill that would officially designate the sacred book as the state’s official book. The decision violates the federal and state constitutions, which call for separation of church and state, claim those who opposed the bill. They allege that lawmakers are using their official positions to promote their personal religious beliefs.
Tennessee had earlier proposed the Bible as its official state book through bill SB1108. The bill subsequently passed the state House of Representatives, amid mixed reactions from both religious and non-religious citizens. Now it is on its way to become a law after the Senate approved the bill by a 19-8 vote on Monday. The bill has now been presented to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. It is believed Haslam opposes the bill, but hasn’t officially confirmed if he will issue a veto. Sharing his views about the bill, he once said the following.
“The Bible is the most important book in my life, and I think in the world. But that’s very different than being the state’s official book.”
It isn’t immediately clear if Haslam will sign the bill or veto it. However, once the bill lands on his desk, Haslam will have just 10 work days to make up his mind and either sign and approve the bill or veto it. In case he delays, the bill automatically becomes a law, even without his signature.
The Bible could soon be Tennessee's official state book https://t.co/xi0rZ68Hka— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 6, 2016
If the bill is signed into law, the Bible will be considered an official state book and will join other official symbols listed in the Volunteer State’s Blue Book, the state’s official manual on state government. These symbols include the mockingbird, the tulip poplar, the channel catfish, the Barrett.50 caliber rifle, and the song “My Homeland, Tennessee,” reported The Christian Science Monitor.
While firmly noting that the bill suggesting the Bible be considered as the state’s official book, Republican state Sen. Steve Southerland, who is the bill’s primary sponsor, said the following.
“I don’t believe it runs afoul of the federal and state constitutions, which call for separation of church and state. The Holy Bible is a history book. I have been told that by a Jewish friend. The bill seeks to honor the historical significance of the Bible in Tennessee’s history rather than serving as a government endorsement of religion.”
As expected, the bill has drawn criticism from all quarters. Religious as well as non-religious citizens have expressed mixed reactions. However, the plan has been vehemently derided by the critics. From calling the bill unconstitutional to sacrilegious, opponents have been attempting to get the bill thrown out, reported The Associated Press.
Tennessee Wants to Make the Bible Its Official State Book, Which Is Obviously Unconstitutional - Slate https://t.co/trqjl8oClo— Barbara Wieczorek (@tweetyw) April 6, 2016
Opponents of the bill claim the bill trivializes the Scripture by placing it alongside other state symbols like the official flower, tree, reptile or folk dance. Opponents were undoubtedly referring to the smallmouth bass, which is the official state sport fish; the cave salamander, which is the state amphibian; and the honeybee, which is considered the state agricultural insect. Interestingly, there are nine songs including the moonshine-themed “Rocky Top,” which are considered as the official songs.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) condemned the legislation, saying the lawmakers aren’t supposed to force such legislature that clearly tilts towards religion, noted Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of ACLU Tennessee.
“We are disappointed that Tennessee lawmakers have voted to use their official positions to promote their personal religious beliefs.”
Tennessee’s attorney general, Herbert Slatery III, had earlier warned that the bill violates both the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions. Interestingly, the state’s own law clearly states that that “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”
AMEN! Tennessee Just Voted To Make The Bible It's Official State Book! https://t.co/Lla2i8tvFl— Betty Ann (@baalter) April 6, 2016
However, Southerland had a response ready,
“It’s about a lot of different things. But what we’re doing here is recognizing it for its historical and cultural contribution to the state of Tennessee.”
Sen. Southerland also noted, “printing the Bible is a multi-million dollar industry in this state, with many top Bible publishers’ headquarters’ in Nashville.”
[Photo by Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images]