NASHVILLE — Tennessee is poised to make history as the first state in the nation to recognize the Holy Bible as its official book.
After nearly 30 minutes of debate, the state Senate on Monday (April 4) approved the measure, sponsored by state Sen. Steve Southerland, with a 19-8 vote, sending the legislation to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.
While proponents stressed the historic significance of the holy book and its religious meaning, opponents argue that the bill trivializes something they hold sacred. Both Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris opposed the measure.
Haslam and Attorney General Herbert Slatery have expressed constitutional concerns regarding the legislation. Slatery issued an opinion last year suggesting that the measure would violate separation of church and state provisions in the federal and state constitutions.
If Haslam signs the bill, the Bible would join a list of state symbols such as the raccoon as the state’s wild animal, the Eastern box turtle as the state reptile, the square dance as the state folk dance, milk as the official state beverage and the Barrett M82 sniper rifle as the official state rifle, which lawmakers approved earlier in the session.
It remains unclear whether opponents of Tennessee’s Bible bill will take the issue to court should Haslam sign the measure.
Before the chamber’s vote on Monday, ACLU-Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said her organization is hopeful the governor will veto the bill.
Since becoming governor in 2011, Haslam has rarely used his veto power.