Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday vetoed a bill seeking to make Tennessee the first state to designate the Bible as its official book, the AP reports. Haslam, who considered entering a seminary before deciding to join the family truck-stop business after college, said in his veto message that the bill "trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text." The bill had narrowly passed both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly after sponsors said it aimed at honoring the significance of the Bible in the state's history and economy, as opposed to a government endorsement of religion. "If we believe that the Bible is the word of God, then we shouldn't be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance," Haslam said.
Lawmakers passed the bill despite the state attorney general's warning that it would violate both the US and Tennessee constitutions, the latter of which states that "No preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship." The bill is sponsored by Sen. Steve Southerland, an ordained minister, and Rep. Jerry Sexton, a retired Baptist pastor. Both are Republicans from eastern Tennessee. Both are vowing to mount bids to override Haslam's veto next week, which would require a majority in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly. Earlier in the session, the Legislature approved a resolution to add the .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle to the state's official symbols plus nine state songs, including the moonshine-themed "Rocky Top." (Ancient letters suggest the Old Testament is a lot older than previously thought.)