Tennessee Lawmakers: We Want Bible as State Book
It's up to Gov. Haslam whether bill is 'unconstitutional,' 'sacrilegious,' or neither
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 5, 2016 1:52 PM CDT
Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, speaks Monday in Nashville in favor of his bill to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee.   (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(Newser) – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has a bill coming his way that has the Bible nominated as the official state book, a move critics say would be both "unconstitutional and sacrilegious," per Nashville Public Radio. The state Senate approved the holy tome 19-8 Monday night, which could make Tennessee the first state to adopt the Bible as its official book, the Tennessean reports. Advocates of HB 0615 insist it doesn't violate either federal or state constitutional mandates on the separation of church and state, mainly because they're basing their nomination not on the Bible's religious import, but on its historical, cultural, and even financial significance (NPR notes the state's multimillion-dollar Bible-printing industry). "This book has done more to bring us to where we are today than any other book in the history of mankind," argued Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts, who said he was initially conflicted about whether to vote for the bill (he did).

What held him, and some others, back: the idea of the Bible being trivialized next to other state symbols—including a Barrett M82 sniper rifle and a state song about two guys looking for moonshine, per the AP. "I hear Satan snickering," Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris noted last year, adding it would "dumb the good book down," per the Times Free Press. The director of ACLU-Tennessee tells the Tennessean that "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." Haslam has signaled his own reservations. "The Bible is the most important book in my life, and I think in the world," he told reporters last week, the AP notes. "But that's very different than being the state's official book." He has 10 days to sign the bill or veto it once he receives it; if he does neither, it automatically becomes law. (The Ten Commandments were removed from the Oklahoma capitol.)