Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the state’s official book.
“In addition to the constitutional issues with the bill, my personal feeling is that this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text,” Haslam (R) wrote in a letter to the speaker of the statehouse.
“If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn’t be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance,” continued Haslam. “If we are recognizing the Bible as a sacred text, then we are violating the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee by designating it as the official state book.”
The controversial measure made it through the state senate earlier this month after it died in that chamber during last year’s legislative session.
Lawmakers can still override Haslam’s veto by a simple majority, according to the Tennessean.
Backers of the measure have emphasized the historical, religious and economic importance of the Bible for the state; the bill asserts “printing the Bible is a multimillion dollar industry for the state with many top Bible publishers headquartered in Nashville.”
Earlier this month, the bill’s sponsor — Republican Sen. Steve Southerland, an ordained minister — responded to questions on whether he considered the Bible a historical or religious book.
“It’s about a lot of different things,” Southerland said, according to the Associated Press. “But what we’re doing here is recognizing it for its historical and cultural contribution to the state of Tennessee.”
Haslam and State Attorney General Herbert Slatery had previously expressed reservations about the constitutionality of declaring the Bible as the state’s official book.
Some opponents also argued that the measure was tantamount to endorsing Christianity over other religions.
“Lawmakers’ thinly veiled effort to promote one religion over other religions clearly violates both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions, as our state attorney general has already pointed out,” ACLU-Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said after the bill passed the Senate.
On Thursday, Haslam explained he “strongly” disagrees “with those who are trying to drive religion out of the public square.”
“Men and women motivated by faith have every right and obligation to bring their belief and commitment to the public debate,” Haslam wrote. “However, that is very different from the governmental establishment of religion that our founders warned against and our Constitution prohibits.”
Tennessee would have been the first state to have the Bible as its official state book, had the measure been signed into law, the Tennessean reported.