Religious Minorities

The Bible Might Not Become Tennessee’s Official Book After All

  Rob Boston

Here’s some good news out of Tennessee: A resolution to name the Bible the official state book looks to be on the verge of collapse.

If this issue sounds familiar to you, there’s a reason: State Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) has been pushing this measure for years, and we’ve written about it before. In 2016, Sexton managed to get the measure through both chambers, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Bill Haslam.

Undeterred, Sexton just kept re-introducing the proposal. This year, it passed the state House of Representatives 55-28 on March 29.

The debate was spirited. State Rep. Johnny Shaw (D-Bolivar), who has opposed Sexton’s measure in past years, rose again to criticize it.

“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 several publishers who print a lot of Bibles. I suppose Sexton was trying to make a stab at a secular justification for the resolution, but he sort of gave up the game by admitting, “Whether you agree with it or not, this is my way of lifting it up.”

Things took a twist when the measure advanced to the Senate. There it ran into an unexpected roadblock: Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R), who really doesn’t like Sexton’s resolution.

“I think it trivializes [the Bible] 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.

McNally signed on as a co-sponsor of the measure in the Senate, putting him into a 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.

Let’s hope so. Despite what Sexton may believe, it’s not the job of the government of Tennessee to “lift up” the Bible or any other religious book. Rather, it’s the job of Sexton and his fellow elected officials to ensure the state’s policies represent all Tennesseans, regardless of their religious beliefs. Let’s leave that task of “lifting up” the Bible where it belongs: with individual residents who believe and their religious leaders.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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