BREAKING: Tenn. governor vetoes bill that would make Bible official state book

by Gregory Tomlin |

(EUTERS/Mike Theiler)Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslam listens during the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, in this February 22, 2014, file photo.REUTERS/Mike Theiler/Files

NASHVILLE (Christian Examiner) – Tennessee's governor has vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the official book of the Volunteer State.

In a letter to Speaker of the House Beth Harwell April 14, Gov. Bill Haslam, himself a conservative, Bible-believing Christian, said he opposed the bill on multiple grounds – among them that the state's attorney general had already issued an opinion that giving the status to the Bible would be a violation of both the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.

The Tennessee Constitution declares "no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship."

All of us should and must bring our deepest beliefs to the places we are called, including government service. Men and women motivated by faith have every right and obligation to bring their belief and commitment to the public debate. However, that is very different from the governmental establishment of religion that our founders warned against and our Constitution prohibits.
- Tenn. Gov. Bill Haslam

However, Haslam also claimed his personal feelings prompted the veto. He wrote that the "bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text. 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. 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. Our founders recognized that when the church and state were combined, it was the church that suffered in the long run."

That does not mean Haslam agrees with political leftists and atheists who are attempting to "drive religion out of the public square."

"All of us should and must bring our deepest beliefs to the places we are called, including government service. Men and women motivated by faith have every right and obligation to bring their belief and commitment to the public debate. However, that is very different from the governmental establishment of religion that our founders warned against and our Constitution prohibits," Haslam, who is an elder in an Evangelical Presbyterian Church, wrote.

Even if Haslam doesn't agree with the atheists, they – for once – agree with him. Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of the litigious Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation said in a statement the veto was evidence that the "country is turning a corner."

Gaylor said the bill was wrong-headed and failed to consider other alternative scenarios, such as if Muslims became the majority and attempted to make the Koran the official state book, or if atheists pushed to make one of Richard Dawkins' books an official book for the state.

"It's equally inappropriate and coercive to endorse the Christian Bible. Government may not take side on religion," Gaylor said. "Bill Haslam not only vetoed the bill, but he issued a strong statement affirming the Establishment Clause and explaining why the bill is unconstitutional."

The governor's veto of the bill may be overridden, if the bill's sponsors can muster the support necessary in the legislature. Sen. Steve Southerland (R-Morristown), who sponsored the bill in the Senate and is the chaplain of the Senate Republican Caucus, said he will ask for the override early next week.

Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), who originally proposed the bill in the Tennessee House in 2015, also said he was ready to move forward with a veto override vote. 

Southerland and Sexton are both members of Southern Baptist churches.