Tennessee’s Republican-led congress approved a bill on Monday, April 4, 2016, that would make the Holy Bible the official state book; it is unclear whether G.O.P. governor Bill Haslam will sign it into law, though he has said before he sees it as disrespectful and perhaps unconstitutional.
The bill’s sponsor, State Senator Steve Southerland, argues the Bible’s historical and cultural contributions to Tennessee makes it worthy of such a designation. The Tennessean writes Southerland made an “emotional plea in favor of the legislation,” even quoting one of his Jewish friends who supports the bill in an attempt to demonstrate people of minority faiths could get behind the idea.
In Tennessee, 3% of adults are of faiths other than Christianity and 14% are atheists, agnostics, or otherwise unaffiliated.
Opponents see the bill as a blatant “endorsement of religion” (Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery), a violation of precedents that separate church and state and establish secular government, including but not limited to the U.S. Constitution.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation called the bill a “supremely inappropriate attempt by zealous legislators to force Christian ideology upon all Tennesseans, regardless of their religious — or nonreligious — preferences” and implied the bill was illegal.
Some religious Republicans opposed the measure because they saw it as degrading the Bible; the senate majority leader even called it “sacrilegious.” The Bible would join other state symbols such as the official reptile (Eastern box turtle) and wild animal (raccoon).
Tennessee would be the first state to make the Bible its official state book. Lawmakers in Mississippi and Louisiana tried in 2015 but failed.
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