Tennessee Legislature Fails to Override Governor’s Veto of Bill to Make Bible State Book

Photo Credit: Wong Mei Teng
Photo Credit: Wong Mei Teng

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lawmakers in Tennessee have failed to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would have designated the Bible as the state book.

As previously reported, Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the bill on April 14, stating that the notion is both disrespectful to the Scriptures and a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

“[M]y personal feeling is that this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text,” the governor, an elder at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, wrote in a letter to Speaker of the House Beth Harwell. “If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn’t be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance.”

But, “If we are recognizing the Bible as a sacred text, then we are violating the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee by designating it as the official state book,” he opined on the other hand. “Our founders recognized that when the Church and state were combined, it was the Church that suffered in the long run.”

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 by Attorney General Herbert Slatery.

“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 passed both houses by a significant margin.

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But the House failed to obtain enough votes to override Haslam’s veto on Wednesday, with the effort being defeated 43-50.

“What if we are the state that fans the flame and causes other states to pay attention and read our actions?” said Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, according to The Tennessean. “What if Tennessee was the state that started the revival that this nation so desperately needs?”

“As our nation continues its moral decline, when you are hugging your kids and your grandkids, what will you say about your vote today?” also asked Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough. “God says in His word that He searches throughout the land for one man to stand in the gap. If not now, then when? And if not you, then who?”

Sutherland said that he was disappointed with the outcome, but added, “But no matter what happens, God’s word is still there.”

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.”

Groups such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee had opposed H.B. 615.

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