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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Tenn. House Votes for|Bible to Be State Book

(CN) - The Tennessee House of Representatives ignored constitutional concerns and voted 55-38 Wednesday to make the Bible the official state book. The measure now will go to the state Senate, which is scheduled to vote on it Thursday.

In an opinion published Monday, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery warned that such legislation would violate both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1 Section 3 of the Tennessee Constitution.

The bill to make the Bible the official state book was introduced in February in the Tennessee House of Representatives by Rep. Jerry Sexton and in the Tennessee Senate by Sen. Steve Southerland, both Republicans.

The Tennessee Constitution states, in relevant part: "no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship."

The bill applies to the part of state law that designates official state symbols, which inherently imply the endorsement of the government, according to Monday's opinion. The state attorney general said it is "common sense" that the bill would constitute an endorsement of religion in contradiction to the state and federal constitutions.

"Legislative designation of the Holy Bible as the official book - as an official symbol - of the state of Tennessee, when viewed objectively, must presumptively be understood as an endorsement of religion and of a particular religion. 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," Slatery wrote. "Such an endorsement violates the establishment clause of the federal constitution, regardless of whether the message of endorsement is intentional or unintentional and regardless of whether the message is conveyed in reality or only in the public perception."

Slatery noted that the state constitution has stronger language prohibiting the endorsement of a religion than the federal constitution, so making the Bible the state's official book would violate the Tennessee Constitution "even more definitively than it would violate the federal establishment clause," according to the opinion.

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