Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tennessee AG Says Bill To Make Bible the State Book Is Unconstitutional; House Passes It Anyway

On Monday, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued Opinion No. 15-34 concluding that pending Tennessee legislation that would designate The Holy Bible as the official state book violates the federal Establishment Clause as well as Tennessee  Constitution Art. I, Sec. 3 barring preference to any religious establishment or mode of worship. The Opinion says in part:
Irrespective of the legislation’s actual purpose, common sense compels the conclusion that designation of the Bible as the official state book in practice and effect conveys a message of endorsement.
AP reported that following the issuance of the AG's Opinion, Tuesday saw "a sometimes raucous floor debate" on HB615/ SB1108, with the bill's sponsor arguing that it does not violate the Establishment Clause. On Tuesday, the House adopted an amendment (full text) to the bill setting out in a preamble over a dozen secular justifications for naming the Bible as the state book. Here are two of them:
WHEREAS, printing the Bible is a multimillion dollar industry for the state with many top Bible publishers headquartered in Nashville, including Thomas Nelson, Gideons International, and United Methodist Publishing House;...
WHEREAS, the tulip poplar was chosen as the state tree because, according to the Blue Book, “it grows from one end of the state to the other” and was “extensively used by the pioneers of the state” for practical purposes such as the construction of “houses, barns, and other necessary farm buildings”, similar to how the Holy Bible is found in homes across the state and has been “used” for practical purposes such as recording family histories; 
On Wednesday, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed the bill as amended by a vote of 55-38, and sent it to the Senate for its consideration. [Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead].