May 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A resolution to name the Bible the official state book of Tennessee has passed the state House of Representatives and is headed to the Senate, where it may be blocked.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station), passed the House 55-28 March 29. Sexton had sponsored the measure in past years, but he has been unable to secure passage.

In 2016, Sexton’s bill passed both chambers but was vetoed by then-Gov. Bill Haslam. It is unclear whether the state’s current Republican governor, Bill Lee, supports the measure, but Lt. Gov. Randy McNally says he opposes it.

“I think it trivializes it and places it along with other symbols the state has,” McNally told Tennessee Lookout, an online news site. He noted that the state has approved the salamander as the state’s official amphibian and limestone as its official rock.

State Rep. Johnny Shaw (D-Bolivar) also voiced opposition.

“I don’t want to be embarrassed to be coming off as the holiest state in the nation and then not living up to it,” Shaw said.

Another opponent of the measure, Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton), outlined a different reason for his no vote.

“There is evil in government,” Travis said. “I just don’t feel like the Bible and evil should mix. There is evil in this building.”

Sexton insisted that the resolution makes sense because Tennessee is home to some publishers who produce Bibles. He added that nothing in the legislation forces anyone to read the Bible.

“Whether you agree with it or not, this is my way of lifting it up,” he said.

In a surprise move, McNally signed on as a co-sponsor of the measure in the Senate, putting him into position to possibly kill it.

“Given his vocal opposition to the resolution, McNally’s decision to sign on as a sponsor signals his likely intent to kill the effort by never allowing it to be taken up in a Senate committee,” the Nashville Tennessean reported April 2.