NASHVILLE — A proposed Tennessee bill to make the Bible the state book is generating mixed opinions from civil leaders, including the governor and lieutenant governor, who opine that the designation would “belittle” the value of the Holy Scriptures.
“The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book,” it reads.
The bill was soon amended to include language outlining the Bible’s “historical and cultural significance in the state of Tennessee.”
“[T]he Tennessee State Library and Archives Bible collection contains Bibles with records dated between the late 18th century and the early 20th century, including those of many prominent Tennessee families,” it reads in part. “[P]rinting the Bible is a multi-million dollar industry for the state with many top Bible publishers headquartered in Nashville, including Thomas Nelson, Gideons International, and United Methodist Publishing House.”
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.”
Sexton writes in his amendment that designating the Bible as the state book is no more wrong than selecting the passion flower for the state wildflower. He notes that the flower’s name is derived from “early Christian missionaries to South America, who saw in the various parts of the curiously constructed flower symbols of the crucifixion—the three crosses, the crown of thorns, nails and chord.”
But some state that making the Bible the state book, thus placing it on the same level as the state reptile, the state dance or the state song, devalues and disrespects the Holy Scriptures.
“There’s nothing more important to me than my faith. I had time with the Bible this morning,” Gov. Bill Haslam, an elder at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, told reporters earlier this month. “But I don’t think it should be relegated to … like the salamander as the official lizard or whatever we call the different things we have official in our state.”
“Whenever the Church has become part of the official government, it hasn’t worked out well for the Church,” he added. “We look around the world, and where the Church is strong and where it’s not, and historically where it’s gotten to be a close part of the government, it hasn’t ended well for the Church.”
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey agrees.
“I mean, the Bible is my official book; it is,” he told the Tennessean. “It shouldn’t be put in the Blue Book with ‘Rocky Top,’ salamanders and tulip poplars. I’m sorry; it just shouldn’t.”
“I’ll guarantee you one thing: When it comes to the floor, I’m voting against it,” Ramsey, who also serves as speaker of the Senate, continued. “I think that belittles the most holy book that’s ever been written, in my opinion.”
But others have expressed their support for the measure.
“The Bible is something to everyone. And each time you read it, it might mean something to you. Everyone has the right to agree or disagree,” said Steve Southerland (R-Morristown). “We’re not saying you have to take it and read it. It’s just giving recognition to it.”
“There is no book that has played the role in the history of Tennessee equal to that of the Bible,” David Fowler, a former Senator who now serves as president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, told reporters. “This book has had more practical use, more historical use, and more economic impact in our state than any other book.”
The bill, which has nearly 70 co-sponsors, has been approved in both House and Senate committees, and will advance today for a vote in the full House.