Governor Bill Haslam Vetoes Bible As Tennessee State Book

Governor Bill Haslam vetoed a bill that would have designated the Bible as Tennessee’s official state book.

On April 14, Haslam sent a letter to Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, explaining that he was vetoing HB 615, the controversial bill that would have designated the Bible as Tennessee’s official state book. HB 615 was passed by the state legislature by an wide majority. The House of Representatives voted to pass the bill 55 to 38. The state Senate voted to pass it 19 to 8. However, Gov. Haslam, who has only used his veto power four times in his 5 years as governor, vetoed the bill, giving these reasons in his letter to Speaker Harwell.

“As you know, last year the Attorney General opined that designating The Holy Bible as the official state book of Tennessee would violate the Establishment Cause of the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution and Article I, §3, of the Tennessee Constitution, which provides that ‘no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.’ In addition to the constitutional issues with the bill, my personal feeling is that this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text. If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn’t be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance. If we are recognizing the Bible as a sacred text, then we are violating the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee by designating it as the official state book.”

None of Gov. Haslam’s previous vetoes have been overturned. HB 615, although controversial, has a great deal of popular support. Both State Senator Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and State Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, have announced their intention to attempt to overturn the governor’s veto. By Tennessee law, a simple majority in both chambers is sufficient to overrule the governor’s decision.

In an editorial, the Tennessean said “Gov. Bill Haslam showed great courage and conviction by vetoing a bill that would have made the Bible the official book of Tennessee. In his veto message, he struck the right balance between constitutionally protected religious liberties and the prohibition against the state’s endorsement of one religion over another.”

Many Tennesseans favored the bill. Tennessee is in the heart of the “Bible Belt,” and Nashville, the state capital, is often referred to as the Belt Buckle of the Bible Belt or the Protestant Vatican. The Los Angeles Times reports that Nashville is “the religious printing and publishing capital of America.” Nashville is home to the Gideons International, Thomas Nelson Publishers, the United Methodist Publishing House, several smaller publishers of “Bibles, hymnals, Sunday School books, Scripture tracts and religious magazines,” as well as the National Baptist Convention, USA, the National Association of Free Will Baptists, the Gospel Music Association, and over 700 churches. Many Tennesseans are devout Christians, and they approve of the state acknowledging their beliefs by making the Bible the official state book.

However, many Tennesseans, both Christian and non-Christian, are opposed to the bill, and glad Gov. Haslam vetoed it. For some Christians, as reported by Inquisitr, the bill would have “trivialized” the Bible by putting holy scripture on a par with the state’s two state flowers, nine state songs, two state birds, two state fish, state horse, state rifle, four state insects, state beverage, and other secular symbols. For other people, it was a matter of principle, maintaining a strict separation between church and state. Some predicted that HB 615, if passed, would insult the Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahá’í, Wiccans, agnostics, and atheists who are taxpaying citizens of Tennessee. Some feared that this bill would aid the rising growth of Christian Dominionism.

Governor Bill Haslam has vetoed the Bible becoming Tennessee’s state book, upholding the separation of church and state. He has probably saved the state of Tennessee a great deal of money, both in legal costs from people trying to overturn HB 615 in court, and by avoiding the boycotts North Carolina and Mississippi are facing over their new laws.

[Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images]