Yesterday, the Tennessee House voted 55-38 in favor of making the Bible the state’s official book, Reuters reported. The bill is expected to come before the Senate for a vote sometime today.
The bill managed to pass the Republican-controlled House despite criticism from both sides of the aisle — including from Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who called it “disrespectful.”
Other Republican representatives opposed the bill, citing concerns about how Tennessee might be perceived and the cost of defending it against legal challenges.
“The controversy will not end in this chamber,” Representative Martin Daniel said. “If we pass this, we’re going to be ridiculed.”
Representative Marc Gravitt said the attorney general’s legal opinion made it clear Tennessee could spend millions of dollars in a losing effort to defend the measure if it becomes law.
Other representatives said recognizing the Bible as the state book and putting it alongside the official state tree, song or dance would trivialize it.
Representative Patsy Hazlewood, a Republican, said “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Pilgrim’s Progress” are books and calling the Bible a book is in itself wrong.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R) told the Tennessean that he hopes the bill doesn’t pass, and if it does, it will “be a dark day for Tennessee.”
“All I know is that I hear Satan snickering. He loves this kind of mischief,” said Norris. “You just dumb down the good book far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol and you’re on your way to where he wants you to go.”
While these legislators are correct that the law definitely should not pass, they are against it for the wrong reason. The problem with this law is not that it degrades the Bible; it’s that it’s completely unconstitutional — a fact many Republicans seem to have forgotten. One of the only people who seems to understand is State Attorney General Herbert Slatery.
“[Designating] The Holy Bible as the official book of Tennessee would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the federal Constitution,” Slatery wrote last month. He added that it would also violate Article I, § 3, of Tennessee’s Constitution, which says “that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”
“Like the Ten Commandments,” Slatery wrote, “the Bible is undeniably a sacred text in the Christian faith. Legislative designation of The Holy Bible as the official book … of the State of Tennessee, when viewed objectively, must presumptively be understood as an endorsement of religion and of a particular religion.”
Gov. Haslam has not said yet whether he will sign the bill if it passes the Senate. Hopefully, Haslam will veto it — and not because it’s “disrespectful” to the Bible, but because he realizes how completely unconstitutional the idea is in the first place.