The Tennessee House subcommittee recently advanced a bill aimed to make the Bible the official state book, despite concerns from some who see the proposal as a potential constitutional violation.
Tennessee’s State Government Committee voted 2-1 in favor of HB 615 last Wednesday. It will now go to a full vote in front of Tennessee’s House of Representatives.
Since the introduction of the bill in February, many different organizations vocalized their opposition against the legislation.
Rep. Bill Sanderson, the State Government Committee chairman, said Attorney General Herbert Slatery requested to submit a formal legal opinion about the legislation.
The Tennessee Constitution says the state will not show any preference towards one particular religious establishment or belief system over another.
State Sen. Steve Southland, one of the sponsors of the bill, said he supports the bill because it commemorates the Bible’s influence in Tennessee’s history.
"It is not my intent in bringing this legislation to cultivate adherence to religious (practices) or aid in religious devotion," Southerland said.
Other state legislators, however, raised their concerns about making the Bible a state symbol.
"I think it's demeaning. I think it reduces the Holy Bible from Scripture to a politically correct history book," said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris.
He added he thinks the bill equates the Bible to other entities that do not hold the same religous or historic significance.
The Tennessee state legislature approved other state symbols over the past few decades. As early as 1980, state legislators made the square dance the official state dance. Most recently, the state legislature approved a bill that made the tomato Tennessee’s state fruit.
"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.
Southland said he hopes those voting on the bill will not let their religious identities interfere with their voting.
"We're not saying you have to take it and read it, it's just giving recognition to it," Southland said.
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