Is this Bible legislation legal? Quick, call and ask my pastor!

No fooling, the following lede comes not from the satire publication The Onion but from a real newspaper — the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Legislation that would make the Holy Bible the official state book of Louisiana cleared the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs with a vote of 8-5 Thursday afternoon. It will now head to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, originally filed a bill to declare a specific copy of the Bible, found in the Louisiana State Museum system, the official state book. But by the time he presented the proposal to the committee, he changed language  in his legislation to make the generic King James version of the Bible, a text used worldwide, the official state book.

Um, the generic King James version? Is there a non-generic King James version?

But peel back the layers, and this story just keeps getting more Onion-y:

Carmody said his intention was not to mingle religion with government functions. “This is not about establishing an official religion,” he said.

Still, Legislators became concerned that the proposal wasn’t broad enough and did not reflect the breadth of Bibles used by religious communities. In particular, some lawmakers worried that singling out the King James version of the Bible would not properly reflect the culture of Louisiana. The Catholic Church, for example, does not use the King James text.

“Let’s make this more inclusive of other Christian faiths, more than just the ones that use the King James version,” said Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro.

Read on, and see if the quote below makes your jaw drop like it did mine:

A few committee members fought the bill vehemently, saying the legislation was likely to upset some citizens who are not Christian and open the state up to legal challenges.

“I am so bothered by this bill that I just called my pastor. My pastor just said that he thinks we are going to have a legal problem,” said Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, who voted against the legislation.

Apparently, Bishop’s mother and barber were unavailable to weigh in on the legality.

Seriously, did anyone — if not the lawmaker, perhaps the newspaper itself — consider contacting a constitutional expert with presumably more credentials than, say, a state representative’s pastor to discuss this proposal?

Apparently not (although the Times-Picayune does note that an ACLU official has concerns about the bill).

In fairness to Bishop, it appears that he actually said more than the New Orleans paper quoted. In fact, he comes across as much more intelligent in a report by The Advocate, a rival state newspaper:

Louisiana legislators advanced a bill Thursday that would make the Holy Bible the official Louisiana state book, despite concerns the move could prompt litigation.

“You cannot separate Christianity from the Bible,” said state Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, a lawyer and the son of a preacher. “If you adopt the Bible as the official state book, you also adopt Christianity as the state religion … We are going to open ourselves up to a lawsuit.”

Alas, neither the Times-Picayune and The Advocate bothers to explore — via experts and legal precedents — the constitutionality of the legislation. It’s as if legislative coverage must be produced inside a bubble that fails to consider the real world. And real experts.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • wlinden

    The plural of “precedent” is “precedents”, not “precedence” (which is the ranking of various entities.)

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      Fix made. Thanks for keeping me humble.

  • Darren Blair

    While I understand the intention to celebrate the copy of the Bible found within the museum system, the guy who proposed the bill really should have seen this coming.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Experts, schmexperts — who needs ’em when you’ve got money quotes like, “I am so bothered by this bill that I just called my pastor. My pastor just said that he thinks we are going to have a legal problem.”

  • RoyMix

    As a Catholic whose grandmother grew up on red beans and rice, that while I may not be a Louisianan, it is heresy to make the KJV the state book of LA. Of course I would not inflict the NAB on anyone, but this is a terrible precedent. Before you know it they will adopt the Book of Common Prayer and formerly great state Louisiana will have fallen to the antichrist, or worse the Presbyterians.

    Best to not have a state book at all if you ask me…

    • FW Ken

      Actually, the Book of Common Prayer is the Episcopalians. The Presbys have a Book of Common Worship. :-)

      For the state book, why not something by Walker Percy? Maybe Love in the Ruins.

  • Donalbain

    Um, the generic King James version? Is there a non-generic King James version?

    Yes, there is a non generic King James Bible. Indeed, that point is explained in the text you quoted:

    Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, originally filed a bill to declare a specific copy of the Bible, found in the Louisiana State Museum system, the official state book.

    It was a specific instance of the book, then he changed it to the generic book.

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      Yes, I understood what the writer was trying to do there, but the wording was extremely awkward.

      • Donalbain

        No. It was perfectly clear. He moved from the specific to the generic.

        • Bobby Ross Jr.

          I agree to disagree. A King James Bible is a specific kind of Bible.

          • Donalbain

            It was one specific KJV. Then it was the KJV in general. How is that in any sense confusing? I give up.

          • Bobby Ross Jr.

            I’m not at all confused. My point is that there is no such thing as a generic King James Bible. Even if the Legislature decided not to make a specific Coca-Cola bottle the official state soft drink, there would be no such thing as a generic Coca-Cola bottle. Edit out the “generic” in the New Orleans paper’s report and the sentence is clearer and more accurate. That’s my point.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    But the Jean Prevel version of the Bible is a Latin Vulgate, based on the Albert d’ Castello version of the Vulgate! How the heck does an early French printer’s version of the traditional Catholic Latin translation turn into the KJV?

    And nobody even mentions this in the story? A Protestant takeover of Catholic Louisiana history is totally unnoticeable, even by Catholics talking about the story?