Earlier this week, there was little objection from the House State Government committee, which approved the bill on a voice vote.
“Does that mean we’re going to vote biblical principles once we get this passed,” said Johnny Shaw (D), a pastor from Bolivar, Tenn.
“Good question, but I’ll leave it up to each one of your consciences to decide,” said the bill’s author, Jerry Sexton (R ), in a careful constitutional dodge.
“That’s a good way to leave it, I appreciate that,” Shaw responded. “That would be my ideal, though, to vote the principles of the state book. I think that’s very important.”
“That’s where our judicial system, our civil government come from,” Sexton nodded. “They come from the tenets of the Scripture.”
Criticism of the bill has come from two directions. The ACLU doesn’t believe that a state should enshrine a particular religious text, which could be seen as giving favor to one religion.
“Religious texts should not be used as political footballs,” the ACLU of Tennessee said in a press release. “This resolution clearly violates both the United States and Tennessee constitutions, which prohibit government promotion of one religion over other religions.”
Others, including several religious leaders, feel that the Bible is too dignified to be made into a state symbol alongside the passion flower and the Channel catfish.
“We’re being asked to make the Bible, any Bible, any version of it, an object, like the state reptile. Like the raccoon, the salamander, the nut, the fish,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R) complained during a senate committee hearing.
“I think that belittles the most holy book that’s ever been written in my opinion,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told the Tennessean this week.
Last year, Louisiana lawmakers tried and failed to make the Bible the official book in that state. The sponsor pulled the bill, telling the Times-Picayune that it had become a distraction.
Representatives in Mississippi tried to do the same thing in January, but their bill died in committee.