NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Senate committee in Tennessee has approved a bill that would designate the Bible as the official state book.
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, 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, and is expected to pass. Now S.B. 1108, the bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday 7-1. It is scheduled to be considered by the full Senate on Monday.
“The Holy Bible has a great historical and cultural significance in the state of Tennessee, as the record of the history of Tennessee family that predates modern vital records,” Southerland said, stating that the designation would be made on historical, not religious, grounds.
Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, also spoke in favor of the move during the committee hearing, noting that the Founding Fathers highly valued the Bible.
“[George Washington] used the Bible for his swearing in,” he said.
Roberts additionally noted the mindset of the nation’s first Congress.
“The attitude of these people was not to keep religion out of government. It was to keep government out of religion,” he said.
However, the ACLU of Tennessee has expressed its opposition to the move, stating that it promotes Christianity over other religions.
“The rich religious diversity in our state is best respected by ensuring that government does not promote specific religious books. Selecting the Bible as the state book amounts to government promotion of one religion over other religions, which clearly violates both the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions,” it said in a statement. “America is a place where people are free to practice religion, or not, without government officials deciding which beliefs should be endorsed.”
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.”
Gov. Bill Haslam and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, both of whom identify as Christians, are opposed to the measure as they believe 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.”
“I mean, the Bible is my official book; it is,” Ramsey also remarked. “It shouldn’t be put in the Blue Book with ‘Rocky Top,’ salamanders and tulip poplars. I’m sorry; it just shouldn’t.”