NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lawmakers in Tennessee have passed a bill that designates the Bible as the official state book, sending it to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam, who has not yet indicated whether he will sign or veto the measure.
As previously reported, H.B. 615 had been introduced last year by Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, but after being approved by the House, it was shelved by the Senate, which sent the measure back to committee for further consideration after its constitutionality was questioned.
“The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book,” the bill simply reads.
The effort was revived this year by sponsor Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown. Last week, S.B. 1108, the bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday 7-1, sending it on to the full Senate for a vote.
Following a half an hour of deliberations on Tuesday, the Senate voted 19-8 in favor of the proposal. Six Republicans voted against the measure, as did two Democrats.
“The very founding of our nation—the very form of government that we have today—was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture,” declared Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, on the Senate floor. “This book has done more to bring us to where we are today than any other book in the history of mankind.”
But the ACLU is now calling upon Gov. Haslam to veto the measure.
“While the Bible is an important book to many state residents, Tennesseans come from a rich diversity of faiths,” Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said in a statement. “Privileging one religion over another not only tramples on the Constitution, it marginalizes the tens of thousands of Tennesseans who choose to practice other religions or not to practice religion at all.”
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.”
While it is not yet known if Gov. Haslam will sign or veto the measure, when the bill was first introduced last year, he expressed concern over the proposal, stating that it devalues the Bible.
“There’s nothing more important to me than my faith. I had time with the Bible this morning,” Haslam, an elder at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, stated last year. “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.”
Haslam has 10 days to take action on the bill.