April 23, 2014
Louisiana scraps plans to make Bible the official state book
by Nick Davies
A Louisiana legislator recently filed a bill that would make the state’s official book the Bible if passed. Now, Julia O’Donoghue reports for the Times-Picayune, Rep. Thomas Carmody has withdrawn the proposal, saying that it’s become a distraction.
O’Donoghue wrote about the bill when it first appeared a few weeks ago; it met with some resistance, including from some representatives (along with the American Civil Liberties Union) who worried that it would upset non-Christians. Rep. Ebony Woodruff of New Orleans proposed changing the bill so that “all books of faith” be made the official state books collectively, a suggestion that Carmody—a Republican representing Shreveport — rebuffed.
Another sticking point was which edition of the Bible to use. Carmody initially wanted a particular version housed in the Louisiana State Museum system, but amended that to the King James Bible. Even that was controversial, as the Catholic Church doesn’t use the King James, leading Rep. Stephen Ortego to propose that lawmakers “make this more inclusive of other Christian faiths.”
The bill passed a vote by the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs on April 10 and would have next gone to the state’s House of Representatives. Legal experts say that, had it passed, the bill would have been difficult to challenge because of the symbolic nature of declaring a state book. As it wouldn’t take any steps to establish a state church or require anybody to read the Bible, it would have been unlikely to cause concern.
Douglas Laylock, an expert on religious liberty who teaches law at the University of Virginia School of Law, explains, “Judges are likely to think that this is de minimis – to minor to care about. They don’t tell the president that he can’t issue Thanksgiving proclamations or host a national prayer breakfast, and judges are likely to view this the same way… It’s not like a government-sponsored prayer at a public meeting, or a government-sponsored religious monument in a particular place, which burdens the particular individuals who attend that meeting or frequent that place.”
But there’s been considerable push-back from the public, not to mention the added scrutiny of national media attention (including this piece by Scott Neuman for NPR). Melinda Deslatte writes for the Associated Press (via the Christian Science Monitor here) that Carmody was pressured by other state legislators to abandon his plans, as “bill was becoming a distraction from more important debates, like on the state budget and education issues.”
With the Bible now off the table as the state book, lawmakers can turn their attention to more suitable candidates for the position, ones that reflect more positively on Louisiana—like A Streetcar Named Desire or the Southern Vampire Mysteries.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.