The Tennessee state Senate has passed legislation that would make the Bible the official state book. The bill has been criticized as both unconstitutional and sacrilegious.
The state Senate debated bill HB0615 for 30 minutes April 3 and then passed the legislation by a 19 to 8 vote. The measure is sponsored by Republican State Sen. Steve Southerland of Tennessee.
“The Holy Bible is a history book,” Southerland said on the floor, according to the Tennessean. “What we’re doing here is recognizing it for its historical and cultural contributions to the state of Tennessee.”
Republican State Sen. Kerry Roberts of Tennessee agreed with Southerland’s assessment.
“The very founding of our nation — the very form of government that we have today — was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture,” Roberts said. “This book has done more to bring us to where we are today than any other book in the history of mankind.”
Dissenting opinions of the floor found the bill both disrespectful to religious minorities in Tennessee and to the Bible itself.
“My constituents tell me that they want us to respect the diversity of faith traditions in the state of Tennessee, not just a single view or a single religious tradition,” said Democratic State Sen. Lee Harris of Tennessee, according to NPR. “One in five Tennesseans are not Christians.”
Republican State Sen. Ferrell Haile of Tennessee agreed with Southerland’s pitch that the Bible was historical record, “but it is not a history book to be placed on the shelf. It’s to be lived out in the lives of believers.”
The ACLU-Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg slammed the bill as unconstitutional on both a federal and state level.
“Privileging one religion over another not only tramples on the Constitution, it marginalizes the tens of thousands of Tennesseans who choose to practice other religions or not to practice religion at all,” Weinberg said.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has not confirmed whether or not he will veto the legislation, but did express discomfort with placing the Bible alongside more innocuous symbols such as the state animal or rifle, Nashville Public Radio reports.
Earlier in the session, the Tennessee Legislature voted to make the Barrett M82 sniper the official state rifle.
Bill HB0615 has not specified which edition of the Bible would be made into an official state symbol.