AG Says Tennessee Can’t Make the Bible the State Book

The Republican attorney general of Tennessee has issued an opinion stating that the bill in the state legislature that seeks to make the Bible the official state book is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. I doubt that will have any effect at all on its passage.

A bill seeking to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee would violate separation of church and state provisions in the federal and state constitutions, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery said in a legal opinion Monday.

The opinion was issued to lawmakers a day before the full House was scheduled to vote on the measure sponsored by freshman Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station.

“The Bible is undeniably a sacred text of the Christian faith,” Slatery wrote in the opinion obtained by The Associated Press. “Legislative designation of The Holy Bible as the official book … must presumptively be understood as an endorsement of religion.”

Slatery cites the provision in the Tennessee Constitution that states that “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religion establishment or mode of worship.” That requirement is “substantially stronger” than even the U.S. Constitution’s clause preventing Congress from establishing a religion, he said.

And the predictably stupid response:

But supporters like David Fowler, the president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, said last week there’s nothing belittling about the proposal. If anything, it highlights that “there is no book that has played the role in the history of Tennessee equal to that of the Bible.”

“This book has had more practical use, more historical use, and more economic impact in our state than any other book,” he said.

Oh, do tell. I can’t wait to hear him explain how the Bible has had an “economic impact” on the state.

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  • Larry

    Episode MCCLXVIII in the on-going GOP laser-like focus on things that really matter.

  • eric

    Honestly I don’t see this necessarily failing the Lemon test. The secular purpose of allowing “State [mascot thing]” ordinances as a category is to allow regular citizens input into how the state is represented and to inspire pride etc.. in the state. This falls into the category, so it has a secular purpose (if you think otherwise, think whether designating any other book could have a secular purpose. Yes it could, right? Because the act of designating a book can have a secular purpose). To primary effect…all these “State [mascot thing]” rulings largely have no effect whatsoever. They do nothing. And it doesn’t entangle the state unless the catholic and protestants start arguing over which bible is being referred to by the title “state book.”

    Bad idea? Yes. Motivated by Christians want to mark their territory? Yes. Unconstitutional? I’m still on the maybe list.

  • Modusoperandi

    I can’t wait to hear him explain how the Bible has had an “economic impact” on the state.

    Sure. Slavery.

  • Chiroptera

    “This book has had more practical use….

    This is true! My couch is missing a leg, and the Bible is exactly the right size to put there so it doesn’t wiggle at all!

  • fifthdentist

    I suppose using it as a defense of slavery bought them a few more years of owning free labor.

  • dingojack

    Well it certainly propped up plenty of Tennessee’s habitually wonky tables…


  • dingojack

    Made fine toilet paper…


  • dingojack

    Great for use as kindling


  • eoraptor

    Dingojack, @8. Really! Here comes Dingojack, once again, trotting out his wholly groundless assertions that the wholly babble makes good kindling. I swear, if we had to rely on the likes of him, we’d still be rubbing two sticks together… (Why did I just feel something fly right past my head?) Everybody knows that the bible pages are far too lightweight to make good kindling. Why, it’s almost like a bookie’s flash paper! And if you don’t tear out all the pages and crumple them up, it won’t burn anyway, because Nazis.

    Really, it’s about time we banned Dingo for his evil, counter-revolutionary, support of arson.

    (Sorry dingo, I just couldn’t resist.)

  • Rick Pikul

    I could actually buy that the Bible has the most economic impact of any book: It does outsell virtually every other book on the market after all. Sure, some books might beat it for a few years but it just keeps chugging along with better than most sales decade after decade.

  • Leo T.


    And it doesn’t entangle the state unless the catholic and protestants start arguing over which bible is being referred to by the title “state book.”

    Wouldn’t be the first time a fight broke out over that sort of thing.

  • eric

    @11: Yeah, but “In 1844 in Philadelphia rumors that Catholics were trying to remove the bible from schools caused riots” is really not germane to the question “if Tennessee names the bible a state book in 2015, will this cause the state to become excessively entangled in sectarian disputes.” Frankly I don’t see it. If some fundie group intent on causing sectarian dispute asks “yeah, but which bible?” we all know what the answer from the legislature is going to be: ‘the proclamation just says Bible. It does not say which one.” They’ve used exactly that sort of non-answer to fly ‘nondenominational’ prayer under the radar, we can expect it to be used here. And while I don’t like that answer or the people who try and use it to break the spirit of the law while obeying the letter of it, I think it does obey the letter of the law in regards to not excessively entangling the state in religious disputes.

  • Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    I can’t wait to hear him explain how the Bible has had an “economic impact” on the state.

    Well, the tech industry is not centered in Tennessee, or any other STEM-related business sector. And yes, I’m aware of their electric power generation capabilities, but that does not make them a key center for an entire business sector.

  • whheydt

    sure, the Bible will have an economic impact. Just think of the cost of defending the law in court followed by paying the costs of the plaintiffs when they win.

  • peterh

    The fundagelicals still haven’t tumbled to the realization there is no such thing as “the” bible.

    Some differences are slight but some are more noteworthy .

  • StevoR

    Guessing this case will end with The Book being thrown at them!

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  • cry4turtles

    They’re just trying to one up Pennsylvania’s “year of the babble”, which did absolutely nothing.

  • comfychair

    ‘Small Government’ FTW.

  • jnorris

    Does the legislation specify exactly which translation, version, edition of The Bible is the official translation, version, edition?

    “Oh, do tell. I can’t wait to hear him explain how the Bible has had an “economic impact” on the state.” Well Ed, Tennessee has a well established and highly regarded distilling industry.