PBS News Hour reports that the Tennessee Senate has passed a bill naming the Bible as the state’s official book (Mississippi and Louisiana tried to pass similar bills unsuccessfully):
In a 19-8 vote, the state Senate approved a measure Monday that would make the Bible the state’s official book, the first state in the nation to do so. The sponsor of House Bill 615, Republican Sen. Steve Southerland, has called the Bible a “history book,” saying the bill highlights the book’s significant impact on the state’s history and culture.
Governor Bill Haslam, who has voiced objections to the bill, could still veto it. And there are legal conundrums:
Attorney General Herbert Slatery also has said a state endorsement of the Bible would violate federal and state constitutions. In a legal opinion issued before the House’s vote last year, Slatery said Tennessee’s constitution states that “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religion establishment or mode of worship.”
Opinions on both sides of the argument (the vote came at the end of a 30-minute debate) were informed by both secular and faith-based points of view. From The Tennessean:
Arguing against the measure, Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, said he believes the measure would degrade the Holy Scriptures.
“The Bible is a book of history, but it is not a history book to be placed on the shelf,” he said.
Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, noted that when lawmakers are sworn into office, they place their hand on a Bible while making an oath to uphold the state and federal constitutions.
“I understand that it’s hard to vote against the Bible — no one wants to do that,” he said. “We have an obligation to follow the Constitution.”
Speaking in favor of the legislation, Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, said he understood the difficulty of the decision his colleagues were making.
Roberts shared a story about George Washington’s inauguration, which he said was filled with religious references.
“The very founding of our nation — the very form of government that we have today — was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture,” he said.
Roberts, who voted in favor of the bill, said he was torn on the issue because he was tired of those who have tried to make the country a secular nation, while he also questioned whether he wanted to put the Bible next to other state symbols.
“This book has done more to bring us to where we are today than any other book in the history of mankind,” he concluded.
Economics and industry enter into the discussion as well, according to National Public Radio:
The Senate version of the legislation, HB 0615, was sponsored by state Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, who noted the importance of the Bible in Tennessee’s history — both in its role as a historic record of important family milestones and as the heart of the state’s multimillion-dollar Bible-printing industry. He singled out publishers who have headquarters in Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Gideons International and United Methodists Publishing House.