Calls to veto Tennessee bill making the Bible 'official state book'

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2016 6:22 PM

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE (Reuters) - Tennessee lawmakers have voted to make the Bible the state's official book and Governor Bill Haslam is under pressure from civil libertarian and nontheistic groups to stop the measure from becoming law.

A vote by the state Senate on Monday followed the state House's approval last year to elevate the official recognition in Tennessee of the collection of writings of the Christian religion.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee said the measure "tramples on the Constitution" and urged the governor to veto it. ACLU executive director Hedy Weinberg said in a statement that "Tennessee politicians have voted to reduce what is to many a sacred religious text to a political football."

Republican state senator Steve Southerland, who sponsored the measure, was quoted by The Tennessean newspaper as saying during an emotional plea that the bill relied on the historical and cultural impact of the Bible on the state.

The newspaper reported that another Republican state senator, Kerry Roberts, said those who founded the United States - "the very form of government that we have today - was put forth by men of faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture."

Haslam's spokesman David Smith said on Tuesday that the governor “has constitutional questions and personal reservations about this legislation. As is his practice, he’s currently reviewing it before taking any action on it.”

Haslam has 10 days to sign it into law from the moment he receives the legislation, or he could choose to allow it to become law without his signature. Smith did not say when the governor would act.

When the state House approved the legislation, Haslam called the idea "disrespectful." When the bill reached the Senate last year, it was sent back to a committee, effectively shelving it.

One group, the Washington-based Secular Coalition for America, which lobbies for atheists, agnostics and other nontheistic Americans, also called for a veto of the bill.

"By elevating the Bible to the status of 'official state book,' the Tennessee legislature has disparaged the nearly 20 percent of Tennesseans who belong to a non-Christian faith or have no faith at all," the group said in a statement.

Tennessee's top law enforcement official, State Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III wrote last year that the measure violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.

(Reporting by Tim Ghianni, Editing by Ben Klayman and Grant McCool)