April 6, 2016

Here we go again: Tennessee attempts to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee


Almost exactly one year ago, we wrote about a failed attempt by the Tennessee House of Representatives to make the Bible the state’s “official book.” I don’t know what an “official book” is or why anyone would want one, but the motion failed. Probably because it was a pathetic piece of political theater, and the state’s Republican leadership had the good sense to kill it in the senate.

But, here we are, one year later, and the exact same bill, again championed by Republican Senator Steve Southerland, has passed both houses and is headed to Governor Bill Haslam‘s desk for final approval, or a veto. Haslam has stated his opposition to the bill, but hasn’t gone so far as to promise a veto.

The bill is obviously unconstitutional. The Tennessee state constitution provides that “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” This is somewhat stronger and clearer language than that given in the first amendment. But I suppose you can hardly expect a legislative body that does most of its work in shady, secret meetings to care all that much about something as trifling as the constitution.

While it’s sad to see a book with as much historical, literary, and spiritual significance so trivialized, it’s hardly surprising. Sen. Southerland and his cronies have scored a cheap political victory and have put Haslam in a catch-22. He can either violate the constitution, or appear anti-Bible (whatever that might mean). As Southerland said, “What do we have to lose?”

Assuming all goes to plan, the Bible will join the pantheon of Tennessee’s official living and inanimate insignia alongside the tomato, the raccoon, the smallmouth bass, the square dance, the bobwhite quail, “Oh Tennessee, My Tennessee” by William Lawrence, and the .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle.



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.