Tennessee may be the first state in the nation’s history to make the Holy Bible its official book.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, received a 19-8 voted by the state Senate Monday, the Tennessean reported. The legislation was then sent Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.
Those in favor of measure HB0615 have noted the Holy Book’s historic significance and its moral teachings, but those opposed, including Attorney General Herbert Slatery, have said that the bill raised the constitutional question of church and state separation.
Southerland denied that such objections were warranted, claiming that HB0615 can be justified in light of the historical and cultural role the Bible has played in Tennessee.
"The Holy Bible is a history book," he said, quoting comments he received from a Jewish friend in his argument Monday.
Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, challenged Southerland by asserting that the bill would trivialize the religious significance of the text.
"The Bible is a book of history, but it is not a history book to be placed on the shelf," Haile said.
But not all of those who vote in favor of the legislation shared Southerland’s view.
Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, said that, on the contrary, the Bible is a fundamentally religious text, and said the bill could be a positive development against those who have allegedly tried to make the U.S. a secular nation.
"The very founding of our nation — the very form of government that we have today — was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture," Roberts said.
Opposition to the bill in the Senate included two Democrats and six Republicans. Senate Republicans comprised 17 of the 19 votes favoring the legislation. Five senators — four Republicans and one Democrat — did not vote.
Tennessee’s House of Representatives narrowly passed the measure last year with a 55-38 vote, but the bill stalled for the year after the Senate sent it back to committee.
The Bible bill resurfaced last week and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held its final meeting for the year on March 29, according to the Tennessean.
Last year Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, tried to address the constitutional concerns surrounding the bill. Sexton, the House sponsor of the bill at the time, tried to amend the legislation to make Andrew Jackson’s Bible the state book, but that effort was struck down.
Other states such as Mississippi and Louisiana have in the past attempted to make the Bible their official book, but ultimately failed to pass their own versions of the bill.
Alabama has an official state Bible — the copy used to swear in Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederate States — but it is not the state’s official book.
The Tennessean reported that during Monday's floor discussion, Southerland said the Family Action Council of Tennessee is prepared to defend the legislation, should it receive opposition after being approved.
Speakers of the House and Senate must officially sign off on the legislation before Haslam can make a decision. If the governer fails to either sign or veto the measure within 10 days of receiving it — excluding Sundays — the bill would automatically be ratified into law.
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