Tennessee lawmakers are reviving a bill to declare the Bible the state book, after the same measure was held up in the senate last year.
The bill won approval in the Tennessee House by a vote of 55-38 last year, but was stalled in the state senate, according to the Tennessean. The current bill was given the green light by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 29. Last year, the proposal received criticism from lawmakers concerned that it might violate both the state and federal constitutions' separation of church and state provisions.
"I mean the Bible is my official book, it is. It shouldn't be put in the Blue Book with 'Rocky Top,' salamanders and tulip poplars. I'm sorry; it just shouldn't," Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told the Tennessean. Ramsey joins a group of politicians who have expressed their disapproval for the bill, including Gov. Bill Haslam, who "doesn't think it's very respectful of what the Bible is," according to spokesman David Smith.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee has also spoken out against the bill.
"The rich religious diversity in our state is best respected by ensuring that government does not promote specific religious books," said Hedy Weinberg, the ACLU of Tennessee's executive director.
"Selecting the Bible as the state book amounts to government promotion of one religion over other religions, which clearly violates both the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions. America is a place where people are free to practice religion, or not, without government officials deciding which beliefs should be endorsed," Weinberg added.
Proponents of the bill, including its sponsor in the Senate, Steve Southerland, have argued that naming the Bible Tennessee's state book is more about recognizing the importance of the book in the state's history. Southerland cited a 2005 Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that it was constitutional to display the ten commandments on a government building.
Southerland explained, "What we’re doing is using the Supreme Court case as the guideline to make sure it’s historical and not religious," according to The Tennessean.
The revival of the bill comes one month after lawmakers in the state approved a bill to make the Barrett M82 sniper rifle Tennessee's official state rifle.