Church, meet state: Tennessee Legislature passes bill to make the Bible its official state book

Lawmakers in Tennessee gave their approval to a bill that would designate the Bible as the state's official book, the Tennessean newspaper reports.

The bill, which had previously passed the state House of Representatives, was approved by the state Senate by a 19-8 vote on Monday. It now goes to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to be signed or vetoed.

The bill's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Steve Southerland, said he doesn't believe it runs afoul of the federal and state constitutions, which call for separation of church and state.

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"The Holy Bible is a history book," Southerland said, noting he'd been told that by a Jewish friend.

The legislation has been condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union. Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of ACLU Tennessee, said in a statement, "We are disappointed that Tennessee lawmakers have voted to use their official positions to promote their personal religious beliefs."

But some Tennessee opposition came from the right. Republican state Sen. Ferrell Haile opposed the measure because he thought the bill would cheapen the Bible. "The Bible is a book of history, but it is not a history book to be placed on the shelf," he said.

The 19 senators who voted to pass the bill included 17 Republicans and two Democrats. Six Republicans and 2 Democrats voted against the measure, with four Republicans and one Democrat abstaining.

It's unclear whether Haslam will sign the bill or veto it. When the measure was proposed last year, critics noted that it appeared to violate the Tennessee Constitution, which states that "no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship."

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican who voted against the bill, said he wasn't sure whether enough senators would be willing to overturn a possible veto by Haslam.

Tennessee isn't the first state to consider naming the Bible an official state book. A similar bill was proposed in Louisiana in 2014, but ended up being pulled by its sponsor.

Last year, two Democratic lawmakers in Mississippi proposed a similar bill, but it hasn't gone anywhere yet.

It's rare for any state to designate an official state book. Massachusetts boasts an official state children's book, "Make Way for Ducklings," and state children's author, Dr. Seuss. There was a brief attempt to make "Moby-Dick" the Bay State's official book, but it failed.

If Haslam signs the legislation, the Bible would join other Tennessee state symbols including the passion flower (state wildflower), the tomato (state fruit), the raccoon (state wild animal) and the Barrett M82/M107 (state rifle).

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