Tennessee Senate kills proposal to make the Bible official state book

John Stevens

Tennessee state senators bow their heads during the prayer before the Senate floor session in Nashville on Thursday.

(Erik Schelzig / Associated Press)

The Tennessee Senate has killed a bill that would have made the Bible the official state book, essentially guaranteeing that the controversial legislation will not be passed this year. Senators voted 22-9 to send the bill, which earlier passed in the state House of Representatives, to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Tennessean reports.

The vote to kill the legislation came after high-ranking Tennesee Republicans voiced their opposition to the proposal. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said it would be “a dark day” if the bill passed, adding: “All I know is that I hear Satan snickering. He loves this kind of mischief. You just dumb the good book down far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol, and you’re on your way to where he wants you.”

The bill was also opposed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Attorney General Herbert Slatery, both Republicans. Ron Ramsey, the state’s lieutenant governor, also spoke out against the legislation, saying, “We don’t need to put the Bible beside salamanders, tulip poplars and ‘Rocky Top’ in the Tennessee Blue Book to appreciate its importance to our state.”

The bill, which could be brought back next year, was passed by the state House last week by a 55-38 vote. The sponsor of the state Senate bill, Republican Steve Southerland, emotionally defended it during the Senate debate, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports, citing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley as examples of people who regularly alluded to the Bible in their speeches and songs.


Opponents of the bill said that it could run afoul of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the government from establishing a religion. One of the bill’s supporters in the state Senate, Republican Frank Niceley, rejected that logic, saying, “The only way we can truly know if this is indeed unconstitutional is to pass it, let somebody sue and it goes to the Supreme Court to decide, and we all would know once and for all if it’s constitutional.”

Tennessee isn’t the first state to consider making the Bible the official state book. Louisiana and Mississippi both considered doing so in recent years, but the efforts were unsuccessful -- the sponsor of the Louisiana bill withdrew it, and the Mississippi bill never made it out of committee.