NASHVILLE — A proposed Tennessee bill to make the Bible the state book is advancing in the legislature despite opposition from church-state separation groups and questions from the state attorney general’s office.
“The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book,” it simply reads.
Tennessee has a number of adopted state symbols that have been approved by the state legislature, as the tomato was designated the state fruit by the General Assembly in 2003, the Eastern boxing turtle was designated the state reptile in 1995, and the square dance was agreed upon as being the state dance in 1980. Tennessee also has several state songs, such as the “Tennessee Waltz” and “Rocky Top,” the latter of which sings of a girl who was “half bear, other half cat; wild as a mink, but sweet as soda pop.”
But some have taken issue with the proposal, including the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, led by Barry Lynn, who is purportedly an ordained United Church of Christ minister. Rob Boston with the organization wrote a blog post in February about the matter, stating that the holy text is a bad choice, and that secular material is preferable. He noted that similar bills have been proposed in Mississippi and Louisiana.
“[G]oing with the Bible slights the many authors who are either from these states or who have written about them in significant ways (or both),” Boston wrote. “We’re not sure who wrote the Bible—it was likely many different authors—but we can say with confidence that none of them lived in the South.”
“I doubt the Bible played a major role in how any of them became a part of the United States,” he said.
State Attorney General Herbert Slatery has also requested a formal legal opinion on the bill, indicating that he may have questions surrounding the constitutionality of the measure.
“I just don’t feel like we’re serving any purposes,” said Rep. Robert Ramsey (R-Maryville), according to the Daily Times. “[It] is not going to save one soul or feed one child or give hope to one person. It’s just an effort to glorify the things of the world, and I just absolutely shiver at the thought of devaluing or diminishing the value of the Holy Bible in that matter, so I passed [on voting].”
But despite opposition, the State Government Committee advanced the measure on Wednesday by a 2 to 1 vote, sending the matter on for a full vote in the House of Representatives.
As previously reported, in 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan declared the year the national “Year of the Bible.”
“Many of our greatest national leaders—among them Presidents Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Wilson—have recognized the influence of the Bible on our country’s development,” he stated. “The plainspoken Andrew Jackson referred to the Bible as no less than ‘the rock on which our Republic rests.’”
“Today our beloved America and, indeed, the world, is facing a decade of enormous challenge,” Reagan continued. “There could be no more fitting moment than now to reflect with gratitude, humility, and urgency upon the wisdom revealed to us in the writing that Abraham Lincoln called ‘the best gift God has ever given to man . . . But for [without] it we could not know right from wrong.”’