NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Senate has voted to shelve a bill to designate the Bible as the state book just two days after the effort passed the state House of Representatives.
“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.”
The bill had cleared both House and Senate committees this year, and had been approved by the full House 55-38 on Wednesday.
“I am what I am because that Book made me what I am—the morals, the values,” Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett) declared to those gathered.
“There are some things that are worth standing up for,” added Rep. Andy Holt (R-Weakley). “Markets, money and military are meaningless without morals. I think it’s time for our body to make a stand.”
But on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), proposed that the bill be sent back to committee for further review after Attorney General Herbert Slatery opined that the measure might violate the state and federal Constitutions.
“This isn’t the time or place now in the full Senate floor to delve into that,” Norris said. “We really need to look into it in committee.”
The lawmaker said that he believed that making the Bible the state book alongside designations for the state bird, state amphibian and state song demeaned and devalued the Scriptures.
“All I know is that I hear Satan snickering. He loves this kind of mischief,” Norris remarked. “You just dumb the Good Book down far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol, and you’re on your way to where he wants you.”
The governor and lieutenant governor have expressed similar opinions.
“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.”
“I mean, the Bible is my official book; it is,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey 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.”
The bill was therefore shelved 22-9 on Friday, sending the matter back to committee for further analysis.