What is happening in Tennessee?

Official state bird of Utah: California gull
Official state dog of Wisconsin: American Water Spaniel
Official state dance of Kentucky: Clogging
Official state snack food of Illinois: popcorn
Official state carnivorous plant of North Carolina: Venus Flytrap
Official state dinosaur of Wyoming: Triceratops

​When it comes to state legislature, the country’s eyes have been directed towards California, Missouri, and North Carolina; many have looked away from Tennessee, where the issue of separation of church and state is being redefined.
Earlier this month, the Tennessee state Senate passed HB 0615 with a 19-8 vote, which would make the Holy Bible the official state book of Tennessee. The bill’s fate will be determined by Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican Presbyterian who has vetoed merely three bills since assuming the role of governor in 2011.

If Haslam were to sign this bill in to law, Tennessee would be the first state in the nation to have the Bible as their official state book.
What are proponents of the bill saying? They argue that the Bible has been integral to the state of Tennessee, not just in their history but also as a symbol for families and an economic benefactor. State Senator Steve Southerland has said that the bill is merely “recognizing [the Bible] for its historical and cultural contributions to the state of Tennessee.”

The Bible contains many records for the people of Tennessee, containing information such as wedding days, birth days, and death days. The bill also acknowledges the fact that the Bible printing industry has had a significant impact on the economy of Tennessee, bringing in millions of dollars of revenue. But are these reasons alone enough to make it the official state book?

Opponents of HB 0165 say that something outweighs all of the aforementioned reasons: the issue of constitutionality. The state of Tennessee, just like the other 49 states, is legally bound by the first amendment which “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion.” Even Governor Haslam has questioned this bill’s constitutionality, with the state’s attorney general Herbert Slatery directly asserting its unconstitutionality. Although Tennessee is 81% Christian and 6% Catholic, the other 23% of the state would be effectively undermined by the passing of this law. But there are also some who oppose this bill on religious grounds.

Republican Senator Ferrel Haile has said that labeling the Bible as the official state book would be degrading, as it would be placed alongside other state objects, such as (but not limited to) flowers, wild animals, birds, and guns. Haile went on to say that “[The Bible is] to be lived out in the lives of believers.” Christopher Hale, the executive director of the Catholic lobbying group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good criticized lawmakers, posing the question: “how is the legislature’s refusal to expand healthcare coverage to the state’s poorest residents reflecting a strong devotion to biblical principles?”

​Whether or not the Bible has played an important role in the history of the world is undoubted, but to say the same for the state of Tennessee would be debatable. If Gov. Haslam were to sign this bill, it would undoubtedly have it’s day in court. After the passage of laws limiting transgender rights in Missouri and North Carolina, many civil liberties groups have spoken out against the laws, and intend to challenge their legitimacy in court. Undoubtedly, these same organizations would do the same in Tennessee.

Categories: Opinion

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