While the country is literally on fire and we’re all still dealing with COVID-19, the Republicans in the Tennessee State House are trying to make the Bible the official state book.
It’s hardly the first time they’ve done this. It’s not even the first time this year.
Let’s rewind a bit: In 2015, State Rep. Jerry Sexton filed a bill to make the Holy Bible the official state book.
It didn’t work. While the bill passed in the House, the Senate did nothing with it, in part because even Attorney General Herbert Slatery said it was unconstitutional.
In 2016, Sexton’s GOP colleague State Sen. Steve Southerland tried again… and failed. Then-Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, vetoed that effort, and the House failed to override him, with some supporters from both parties changing their vote later on.
Earlier this year, Sexton gave it another shot. The substantive part of House Bill 2778 is just a sentence long: “The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book.”
As of this writing, there are 43 co-sponsors. The companion bill, SB 2696 (filed by State Sen. Mark Pody along with six co-sponsors), does the same thing.
But the bill stalled in March, like everything else, because of the virus. The legislature is now reconvening and deciding which bills need to take precedence, and this one is somehow in the mix.
Charles Sumner, president-emeritus of the Nashville chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wrote an opinion piece for the Tennessean urging lawmakers not to go through with it. Besides noting all the reasons the bill was rejected in the past, he notes why Christians should be opposed to it.
There are many different versions of the Bible, so this bill can be divisive even for different Christian denominations.
The bill is divisive because it excludes non-Christians. Tennesseans practice a variety of faiths, and some do not believe in God. This bill sends a message that those people are disfavored by their government.
He’s right, of course. Of all the books any state should be exalting, a specific group’s religious text ought to be pretty low on the list. Why not a math textbook or a work of classic literature? There are so many authors with connections to the state — Alex Haley, Robert Penn Warren, Tennessee Williams — yet their works weren’t even considered.
This bill should fail. Tennessee doesn’t need a stronger connection to Christianity. It needs far less of it.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)