Bill to make Bible official book of Tennessee passes Senate committee


A bill that would designate the Holy Bible as the official state book of Tennessee passed a Senate committee on Tuesday.

SB 1108, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Steve Southerland, was passed by the state Senate Judiciary Committee with a 7-1 vote.

The bill was approved by the state House last year with a 55-38 vote, but the Senate chose to send it to a committee, according to The Tennessean.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Attorney General Herbert Slatery opposed the bill last year, with Slatery saying it violated state and federal constitutions.

Republican state Sen. Kerry Roberts, who supports the bill, cited the historical fact that George Washington used the Bible for his swearing in during his inauguration.

He said the first Congress had several constitutional scholars, explaining that "the attitude of these people was not to keep religion out of government. It was to keep government out of religion."

Southerland was praised by Sen. Todd Gardehire for undergoing a "great deal of soul searching and historical searching" to ensure that the bill is not a religious statement but a historical one.

About the bill's constitutionality, Southerland cited a 2005 Supreme Court case about a display of the Ten Commandments monument on government facilities where the court ruled that it was constitutional with a 5-4 vote.

"What we're doing is using the Supreme Court case as the guideline to make sure it's historical and not religious," Southerland said.

Senate leaders and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey were previously hesitant to adopt the bill. Ramsey said last year that it would be irresponsible for the state to use tax money to defend the bill in court.

Besides Tennessee, other states have similar bills but they failed to get enough support.

In Mississippi, legislators considered a Bible bill early this year but it failed to pass last February. Louisiana lawmakers also had a similar bill last year but it failed to garner support.

The Tennessee bill heads to the Senate Calendar Committee which will decide when to send it back to the Senate floor.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee, lawmakers have used their position to promote religion.

"The rich religious diversity in our state is best respected by ensuring that government does not promote specific religious books," said ACLU Executive Director Hedy Weinberg, adding that "selecting the Bible as the state book amounts to government promotion of one religion over other religions, which clearly violates both the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions."