Republican Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee vetoed a proposed bill to make the Bible the state’s official book.
In a letter to legislators, addressed to Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, Haslam explained his reasons for vetoing the controversial bill. The April 14 letter was obtained and reprinted by the Tennessean:
Dear Speaker Harwell,
I am vetoing House Bill 615, the legislation designating The Holy Bible as the official state book.
As you know, last year the Attorney General opined that designating The Holy Bible as the official state book of Tennessee would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution and Article 1, & 3 of the Tennessee Constitution, which provides "no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship."
In addition to the constitutional issues with the bill, my personal feeling is that this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text. If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn’t be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance. If we are recognizing the Bible as a sacred text, then we are violating the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee by designating it as the official state book. Our founders recognized that when the church and state were combined, it was the church that suffered in the long run.
I strongly disagree with those who are trying to drive religion out of the public square. All of us should and must bring our deepest beliefs to the places we are called, including government service. Men and women motivated by faith have every right and obligation to bring their belief and commitment to the public debate. However, that is very different from the governmental establishment of religion that our founders warned against and our Constitution prohibits.
For these reasons, I am vetoing House Bill 615.
Following the veto, the ACLU of Tennessee responded and praised Haslam’s decision.
"Religion thrives when it is left in the hands of families and faith communities," ACLU executive director Hedy Weinberg wrote in a statement, according to Nashville Public Radio. "The governor's veto of this unconstitutional legislation ensures that religious freedom can flourish in Tennessee."