Tennessee might be the first state to establish the Bible as its official book, after the state Senate approved a measure to do so on Monday in a 19-8 vote.
The bill is now headed to Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, but it’s unclear whether Haslam, who said in 2015 that the bill wasn’t “very respectful” of the religious text, plans to veto or sign the bill. It will automatically become law if he does not take action within 10 days, excluding Sundays, after the speakers of the House and Senate sign off the legislation.
“The governor doesn’t think it’s very respectful of what the Bible is,” the governor’s spokesman David Smith told The Tennessean.
The state’s Attorney General Herbert Slatery also released a statement last year that said acknowledgement of the Bible as the official state book would violate the First and Third Amendments of the Constitution for giving preference to a religious institution. Meanwhile, legislators in support of the measure argued for the significance of the holy scripture and its role in founding the United States.
State Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), who voted in favor of the bill, said he understood the difficulty in deciding on the issue, The Tennessean reported. However, he noted that George Washington’s inauguration contained many religious references.
“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,” he said.
Others proponents of the bill were concerned the Bible would be trivialized in comparison to Tennessee’s other state symbols. Other official badges of the state include the state’s official beverage, milk; its official wild animal, the raccoon; official fruit, the tomato; and, most recently, the official state rifle, the M82 sniper rifle.
Executive Director of ACLU-Tennessee Hedy Weinberg released a statement Monday that said the bill uses the Bible as a “political football” and asked that Haslam veto the bill, as well.
“While the Bible is an important book to many state residents, Tennesseans come from a rich diversity of faiths,” Weinberg said. “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.”
The Mississippi state legislature also passed a bill last week challenging the separation of church and state after the state Senate voted in favor of the “Mississippi Church Protection Act.” The bill, passed on March 29, permits the use of armed security in churches, the right to carry a concealed weapon without a permit and the loosening of federal regulations that restrict gun rights.