April 3, 2015

Can Tennessee name the Bible their official state book?


The raccoon is Tennessee's official state wild animal. A group of politicians wants to name the Bible the state's official book.

The raccoon is Tennessee’s official state wild animal. A group of politicians wants to name the Bible the state’s official book.

A group of Tennessee politicians are moving forward with a plan to designate the Bible the state’s official book, despite the reservations of, well, lots of people. Claiming that the Bible has as much economic as religious significance (Bibles printed in Nashville help make it the “buckle of the Bible Belt,” and a “strong driver” of the state’s economy), the bill’s sponsors are disregarding questions of constitutionality as the bill advances through the House.

A proposal to make the Bible the official state book of Tennessee is advancing in the state House despite constitutional questions raised by the state attorney general’s office.

The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station was advanced on a 2-1 vote by the State Government Subcommittee on Wednesday.

Rep. Bill Sanderson, the subcommittee’s chairman, said a formal legal opinion has been requested from Attorney General Herbert Slatery. But Sanderson said preliminary word is that the state’s top attorney said the measure could be constitutionally suspect.

It’s not just the attorney general who’s skeptical. Sexton has faced pushback from his own party, but not for consititutional reasons. As Dave Boucher writes in The Tennessean, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris opposes the bill because he believes it “cheapens” the good book.

“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.

“I think it’s demeaning. I think it reduces the Holy Bible from Scripture to a politically correct history book.”

Similar bills have recently failed in Louisiana and Mississippi.


Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.