April 22, 2015
The Bible won’t be Tennessee’s official state book
by Nick Davies
The Tennessee Senate has voted against making the Bible the official state book. As reported here on Moby Lives, the measure was proposed by several weeks ago, and approved by the state’s House of Representatives last week. But, as Michael Schaub writes for the Los Angeles Times, the proposal—facing criticism by Republican leadership and the governor—was ultimately voted down in the Senate.
Supporters of the bill, including its sponsor in the Senate, Steve Southerland, defended the Bible as important to the state, pointing to noted Tennesseans Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley, who frequently allude to the good book in their songs. Responding to the (seemingly obvious) criticism that the bill would be unconstitutional in its marriage of church and state, Republican Frank Nicely countered that, “The only way we can truly know if this is indeed unconstitutional is to pass it, let somebody sue and it goes to the Supreme Court to decide, and we all would know once and for all if it’s constitutional.”
Republican critics of the proposal have not focused on the constitutionality of it, but on the idea that it would trivialize the Bible. Governor Bill Haslam and Attorney General Herbert Slatery have both spoken out against it, and Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey says, “We don’t need to put the Bible beside salamanders, tulip poplars and ‘Rocky Top’ in the Tennessee Blue Book to appreciate its importance to our state.” Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris is more colorful in his criticism, saying , “All I know is that I hear Satan snickering. He loves this kind of mischief. You just dumb the good book down far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol, and you’re on your way to where he wants you.”
The Senate killed the Bible bill in a decisive 22-9 vote, sending it back to Tennessee’s Senate Judiciary Committee; it could be brought back to the state’s House and Senate for a vote next year.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.