Tennessee state legislators on Wednesday advanced a bill to make the Bible the official state book, a measure the state attorney general said would be unconstitutional and Republican Governor Bill Haslam has called disrespectful.
The Republican-controlled state House of Representatives voted 55-38 to approve the Bible as state book. A companion bill could be considered as soon as Thursday in the state Senate, where Republicans hold 28 seats to five for Democrats.
Representative Bud Hulsey, a Republican, told colleagues in support of the bill it is worth the fight "now more than ever."
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.
The bill also has drawn criticism from religious leaders and others - including Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III - who say it violates the separation of church and state under the U.S. Constitution and Tennessee's constitution.
A spokesman has said the governor sees the bill as disrespectful of what the Bible is.
(Reporting by Tim Ghianni; Editing by David Bailey and Bill Trott)