NASHVILLE (Christian Examiner) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has an opportunity to make history if he signs a new bill that would make the Bible the state's official book. Tennessee would be the first state in the country to do so.
On Monday the state senate passed the bill by a 19-8 vote, dividing both the Democrat and Republican caucuses.
Republican State Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, an ordained minister, sponsored the bill. He wants to see the bill passed because of the Bible's "great historical and cultural significance in the state of Tennessee as a record of the history of Tennessee families that predates some modern vital statistical records," according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, pulled from history to make a case for the official recognition of the Bible by the state.
"The very founding of our nation — the very form of government that we have today — was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture."
"The very founding of our nation — the very form of government that we have today — was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture," Roberts said.
Opponents of the bill have complained that the bill would be unconstitutional and could trivialize the Bible.
"The Bible is a book of history, but it is not a history book to be placed on the shelf," said State Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin. The Republican noted that the Bible was to be recognized by individuals not by states. He said government's involvement in recognizing it demeans the Bible.
Haslam, a Republican, has raised similar concerns. It's unknown whether he will sign the bill.
Other items officially recognized by the state of Tennessee, according to The Washington Post and The Times Free Press, include the state's official amphibian (a Tennessee Cave Salamander), rifle (a Barrett .50 caliber) and song (a murder ballad).
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the state's attorney general both oppose the measure — mostly on the grounds that the bill violates the First Amendment.
"Lawmakers' thinly veiled effort to promote one religion over other religions clearly violates both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions, as our state attorney general has already pointed out," said Tennessee ACLU Executive Director Hedy Weinberg told The Tennessean.
After the bill passed the state house last year (by a 55-38 vote), the vote appeared dead in a senate committee. The states of Louisiana and Mississippi tried to pass similar measures last year but failed.
The sponsor of the bill in the house tried to change the bill to make Andrew Jackson's Bible the official state book in an effort to alleviate some of the constitutional concerns.