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Tennessee Won't Make the Bible Its State Book

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

That is, unless legislators override Gov. Bill Haslam's veto, which he announced today.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the official state book, saying it would be both unconstitutional and a trivialization of Scripture.

Haslam issued his veto today, citing an opinion from the state's attorney general that the bill would violate both the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions, reports Nashville daily The Tennessean.

"In addition to the constitutional issues with the bill, my personal feeling is that this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text," Haslam, a Republican, wrote in a letter to Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell. "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. 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."

"Men and women motivated by faith have every right and obligation to bring their belief and commitment to the public debate," he added. "However, that is very different from the governmental establishment of religion that our founders warned against and our Constitution prohibits."

The bill would have made Tennessee the first state in the nation to give such recognition to the Bible. It could still happen, as in Tennessee it takes only a simple majority in both the House and Senate to override the governor's veto. The House and Senate sponsors both told The Tennessean they will seek an override vote.

Civil liberties groups applauded Haslam's veto. "Religion thrives when it is left in the hands of families and faith communities," said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, in an emailed statement to the Nashville paper. "Religion thrives when it is left in the hands of families and faith communities. Publicly elected government officials cannot use their official positions to favor one religious belief over another. The governor's veto of this unconstitutional legislation ensures that religious freedom can flourish in Tennessee."

Liberty Counsel, the right-wing legal nonprofit that has represented many anti-LGBT clients, decried the veto. "The government's adoption of the Bible as the state book would not be an endorsement of Christianity or Judaism or the contents of the book as religion," senior litigation counsel Roger Gannam told The Tennessean. "But certainly could have adopted the Bible as a proper recognition of the influence it had on the foundations of Tennessee law and political thought." Liberty Counsel had offered to defend the state at no cost if the bill became law and resulted in court challenges.

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