UPDATE – 4/14/16: Governor Haslam has vetoed the bill (for now). Here’s hoping the veto isn’t overturned by the legislature.
In an apparent bid to retain its coveted position as the Worst State To Live In, Tennessee’s Senate voted last week to overwhelmingly (19-8) approve a bill that would recognize the Bible as the “official state book” (right next to the Barrett .50 cal as the official state rifle). Which version and translation of the Bible, you might ask? Well… SB-1108 doesn’t specify, leading us to assume that our illustrated version of the Bible will soon become the official book of the state of Tennessee! So… it’s apparently time to celebrate – we’re #1!
The bill is sponsored by state senator Steve Southerland, an ordained minister who loves our work and led the bill to pass the house a full year ago before being voted on by the Senate last week. (Tennessee lawmakers had apparently been very busy crafting a bill that enables therapists to reject LGBT patients for religious reasons (in a state that already ranks last in mental health). Apparently lawmakers having nothing better to do with their time than religious grandstanding from public office? Ya know, like maybe addressing real problems like the fact that TN ranks #1 for violent crime in the U.S..
SPEAKING UP: I’ve already sent copies of our Bibles to Governor Haslam. If he signs this bill into law, I’ll personally send a copy to every politician who voted for it (with a few specific highlighted annotations) in order to “celebrate” the Word of the Lord – one act of genocide, sacrifice, superstition, and sorcery at a time.
What I’ve found interesting with this story is the lack of “big picture” discussion on *why* this bill was introduced a year ago. Much of the media appears to be focused solely on the micro-gesture of proud Christian politicians beating their chests for “winning a round” in the name of their god(s). But, what’s really at play here is all about precedent and legal standing; setting a religious text as an “official text of the state,” giving lawmakers the ability to lean on this “official book” for everything from getting creationism taught in schools to justifying pay inequality for women. If you thought the legislature was gridlocked before, just wait until they begin debating the relevance of the Bible’s teachings on disciplining children (as advocated by TN author, Michael Pearl) or the use of child coercion in “evangelism” (as practiced in many TN churches). How much money can a state waste by turning the house of law into the house of the lawd?
On the other hand, from a purely capitalist perspective, having Tennessee name the Bible as the official state book would be great for sales of our illustrated Bibles; allowing them into every classroom in the state, available as curriculum for teachers to explain why God needed 32 virgins and what He did with them. #awkwardbible
While Tennesseans continue to wait for Governor Haslam to either sign or veto the bill by Friday, the state’s Attorney General has issued a strong opinion, “designating The Holy Bible as the official state book of Tennessee would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the federal Constitution and Article I, § 3, of the Tennessee Constitution.” Of course, A.G. Herbert Slatery doesn’t get to write the laws – just enforce them. In a state that ranks 36th in education, it should be no surprise that Tennessee lawmakers are unable to understand the line their state’s Constitution that reads, “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”
Spoiler Alert: When political leaders shift their focus to become religious leaders and are allowed use their public offices to dictate religious edicts from a position of newfound power, well… it rarely ends well. If you are a resident of Tennessee, you might be interested in this petition to Governor Haslam or contact his office directly. (Also… don’t forget to use your vote in the upcoming election to send a message to the General Assembly, “There are already enough churches in Tennessee – please get back to working on the law!”)
Side Note: The Tennessee General Assembly has a habit of voting for resolutions that aren’t entirely based in reality, in 1965 adopting the state’s official slogan, “Tennessee – America At Its Best” (despite the rankings in murder, education, inequality, poverty, etc…) But, you’ve got to at least give them credit for showing up for a vote, eh?