Tennessee House Votes to Make the Bible Official State Book

The bill now heads to the state Senate.
Photographer: Bartomeu Amengual

If some Tennessee Republicans get their way, the Holy Bible will soon join the largemouth bass, the tomato, and the mockingbird as an officially recognized state symbol. 

The Tennessee House voted to make the Bible the official state book, passing the measure by a vote of 55-38 on Wednesday, despite objections from the some in the party, including the state's attorney general. 

"History's going to tell us where we stand on this. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to have the side that I'm on,"  Representative Jerry Sexton, the bill's author, told the Tennessean after the vote. "It may be kind to me in the future and it may not be kind, and that's OK. I made a decision for today and I feel good about it."

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who is also a Republican, strongly opposes the bill. 

"I sure hope it won't pass. I think it'll be a dark day for Tennessee if it does," Norris told the Tennessean. "All I know is that I hear Satan snickering. He loves this kind of mischief. 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."

In a letter to lawmakers, Tennessee's Republican Attorney General Herbert Slatery said the move to make the Bible the state book would not pass constitutional muster. 

"Irrespective of the legislation’s actual purpose, common sense compels the conclusion that designation of the Bible as the official state book in practice and effect conveys a message of endorsement," Slatery's letter stated. "Such an endorsement violates the Establishment Clause of the federal Constitution, regardless of whether the message of endorsement is intentional or unintentional and regardless of whether the message is conveyed in reality or only in the public perception."

Slatery has also declared that he would not defend the measure if it is passed in to law and challenged in the courts. 

The bill now moves to the Tennessee Senate. The state's Republican governor, Bill Haslam, has indicated that he has problems with the bill, but has not said whether he will veto it. 



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