On Monday the Tennessee Senate voted to make the Bible the state’s official book, even though the state’s attorney general argued that it conflicts with the state constitution, which says, “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” That seems pretty clear cut.
The fate of the Bible bill is now in Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s hands. According to the Tennessean, Haslam has raised questions about its constitutionality. The sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Steve Southerland, tried to mask the religious intention of the legislation by arguing that the Bible is “a history book.”
The legislation also seems to run afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, though some Religious Right figures, like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, do not believe the Establishment Clause applies at all to the states. They would argue that Tennessee lawmakers could go even further and declare Protestant Christianity the state’s official religion.
They haven’t gone that far yet. But there’s no telling how far the religious politicking might go. The American Bible Society recently reported that two Tennessee cities are among the nation’s top five “most Bible-minded.” More from Associated Press’s Erik Schelzig:
In solidly Republican Tennessee, heavy doses of God and guns are considered reliable election-year politics.
The Bible bill came to a vote just days before the candidate filing deadline, giving lawmakers pause about being portrayed by political rivals as being as opposed to the Bible if they voted against the bill.
State lawmakers recently made a .50-caliber sniper rifle the official state rifle. The Tennessean notes that if Haslam signs the bill, Christianity’s sacred scripture “would join a list of state symbols such as the raccoon as the state’s wild animal, the Eastern box turtle as the state reptile, the square dance as the state folk dance, milk as the official state beverage and the Barrett M82 sniper rifle as the official state rifle, which lawmakers approved earlier in the session.”