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Tennessee law makers veto Bible as state symbol

Bibles rest on a beach wall during Pepperdine's Wednesday morning Surf Chapel on Zuma Beach March 11, 2015 in Malibu, Calif. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Written by Meaghan Bitters, Advertising Editor

Tennessee’s governor vetoes bill to designate the Bible as Tennessee’s state book.

Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam received a bill to designate the Bible as Tennessee’s state book.

According to NPR.com, “the bill’s backers say they want to recognize the Bible’s role as a record of family history. They also cite the importance of Bible publishers in Nashville, where Thomas Nelson, Gideons International and United Methodists Publishing House account for a multimillion-dollar industry.”

The state already has many symbols including: a flag, seal, tree, flower, fruit, bird, fish, wild animal, horse, reptile, amphibian, insect, rock, fossil, and rifle.

A former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives and ordained minister, Steve Southerland, said: “What we’re doing here is recognizing it for its historical and cultural contribution to the state of Tennessee.” (NPR.com)

Lawmakers were pushing this bill while religious conservatives were opposing.

According to NPR.com, 60 percent of Tennesseans favor the bill and believe they would be honoring the book by making it a state symbol; however, religious conservatives reject the idea of the Bible represented equivalently to other state symbols.

Some on the opposing side feels making the Bible a state symbol would devalue it; others feel the state would be endorsing Christianity.

“The state attorney general, Herbert Slatery, says the proposal is unconstitutional. He says it violates the Bill of Rights and goes against the Tennessee Constitution, which draws an even sharper division between church and state.” (NPR.com)

Many people feel making the Bible a state symbol sets a dangerous precedent by closing the gap between church and state (New York Times).

Thursday, April 14, Gov. Bill Haslam, vetoed the bill.

According to Tennessean.com, Haslam wrote in a letter to House Speaker Beth Harwell: “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,” he said. “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.”

Annie Gaylor, founder and president of the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation, applauded the Governor’s decision to veto the bill.

“Government shouldn’t take sides on religion,” Gaylor said. “I think we’re turning a corner in our country that we are seeing a Republican governor in the South write a very firm defense of separation of church and state and understanding of the establishment clause and not apologizing about it.” (Tennessean.com)

Sen. Steve Southerland and the senate sponsor of the bill announced on Monday that they will push for a veto override.

After two hours of discussion, the House of Representatives took a vote Wednesday and fell seven votes short of the 50 they needed to override the veto (Tennessean.com).

According to Tennessean.com, six Republicans and five Democrats who voted for the bill when it passed last year did not support the override on Wednesday.

In response to the decision, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, said: “It had a strong uphill climb, but I believe that we came further and I believe that we made history here in Tennessee.”

Sen. Steve Southerland said: “We were disappointed in that, but no matter what happens God’s word is still there.” (Tennessean.com)

If the bill would have passed, Tennessee would have been the first state to have a state book.



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