Bill to make Bible official book of Tennessee delayed as GOP leader frets demeaning holy scripture
Legislation that would designate the Holy Bible as the official state book of Tennessee hit a roadbump on Tuesday.
The state Senate State and Local Government Committee delayed a vote on the bill after state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) expressed his concerns, according to The Tennessean.
“We’re being asked to make the Bible, any Bible, any version of it, an object, like the state reptile. Like the raccoon, the salamander, the nut, the fish,” Norris said. “I think it’s demeaning. I think it reduces the Holy Bible from scripture to a politically correct history book.”
Critics of the bill say it violates the Tennessee Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. Article I of the Tennessee Constitution states that “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”
But state Sen. Steve Southerland (R-Morristown), who introduced the Senate version of the bill, insisted the proposed legislation wasn’t intended to promote Christianity.
“It is not my intent in bringing this legislation to cultivate adherence to religious (practices) or aid in religious devotion,” Southerland told the Senate State and Local Government Committee. “Simply, my purpose in bringing this legislation is to memorialize the role the book has played on Tennessee history.”
State Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), who introduced the House version of the bill, has also denied the legislation would clash with the Constitution.
“The Bible also plays a significantly important role in our state today with several companies in Nashville being responsible for publishing more Bibles than possibly any other city in the world. Making the Bible our official state book isn’t a violation of either our Constitution or the U.S. Constitution. It is simply a recognition of its historical importance. To preclude the Bible simply because it is religious in nature is anathema to the First Amendment,” he said.
Tennessee isn’t the only state that has considered making the Bible the official book.
Lawmakers in Mississippi have introduced similar bills, and lawmakers in Louisiana last year considered making the Bible the official state book, but the legislation was scrapped after it became a “distraction.”