Four years after Tennessee’s governor vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the “official state book,” the sponsor of that bill is trying again.
State Rep. Jerry Sexton, a Republican, filed a bill Wednesday that would designate “the Holy Bible as the official state book,” according to a description of the bill on the legislature’s website.
In 2016, then-Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, vetoed a similar bill by Sexton. But he was ineligible to run for re-election after serving two terms and was followed by a new governor, Bill Lee, who also is a Republican. Lee has not taken a position on Sexton’s bill.
Sexton previously said his bill would acknowledge the role the Bible has played in the state’s past.
“There is no denying our history,” Sexton said in 2015, according to Baptist Press. “The Bible has certainly had a pivotal role in the history of our state as well as our nation. The Bible also plays a significantly important role in our state today with several companies in Nashville being responsible for publishing more Bibles than possibly any other city in the world.
“Making the Bible our official state book,” he added, “isn't a violation of either our Constitution or the U.S. Constitution. It is simply a recognition of its historical importance. To preclude the Bible simply because it is religious in nature is anathema to the First Amendment.”
Haslam vetoed the bill and in a letter said the bill “trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text.”
“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,” Haslam wrote. “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.”
Photo courtesy: Aaron Burden
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.