Bill making Bible Tennessee's state book passes House

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- The Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill making the Bible the state's official book Wednesday, a day after the measure stalled in a debate on the House floor. The measure now goes to the state Senate.

Legislators voted 55 to 38 in approving the measure proposed by freshman Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, a former pastor.

The proposed legislation to make the Bible Tennessee's official book was deemed unconstitutional Tuesday by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, but Wednesday's vote suggests lawmakers aim to see the bill through anyway.

Slatery's statement referenced the Tennessee Constitution's provision that "no preference shall ever be given by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship" and rendered his opinion "that the bill would violate not only the First Amendment of the United States Constitution but the Tennessee Constitution as well."

He also appeared to chide supporters in the legislature, saying the Bible did not need official government recognition in order to uphold its importance.

"While it may not be the government's role to establish the Bible as the Official State Book of Tennessee, that does not lessen the value it has in the public forum. I am quite confident that the Bible's distinguished place in history will not be diminished in the absence of a state's endorsement," Slatery said.

Sexton disagreed with Slatery's opinion regarding the constitutionality of the bill.

"This does not establish any form of religion, and any move to denounce it, I think, is to silence those of us who would like to see reverence given to a book that has played a role in all of our lives," Sexton reportedly said.

A supporter of the bill, State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, argued that the law simply sought to "clearly state the obvious, and the obvious is that the Bible has historical, cultural, and economic significance of the state of Tennessee and to its citizens."

Several Republican leaders, including Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey have voiced opposition to HB 615.

While some opposed the legislation on the basis of separation of church and state, others took issue with what they perceived as irreverence for the Bible.

Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, whose bios state he attended Clearwater Christian College and Northland Baptist Bible College and leads weekly worship at Crossroads Community Church in Newport, Tennessee, vigorously opposed the bill during the occasionally intense debate, saying his "no" vote was not against the Bible, but "for the supremacy of God."

The bill now goes to the state Senate and if approved will eventually land on the governor's desk. Haslam, an elder at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, already has stated he is against the measure.

"The governor doesn't think it's very respectful of what the Bible is," David Smith a spokesman for Haslam's office said.