On Thursday, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the state's official book. "In addition to the constitutional issues with the bill," the Republican governor wrote in a letter to Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, "my personal feeling is that this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text." Two equally valid points.
In the letter, Haslam went on to describe the conundrum House Bill 615 presents:
If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn't be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance. If we are recognizing the Bible as a sacred text, then we are violating the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee by designating it as the official state book.
He added, "I strongly disagree with those who are trying to drive religion out of the public square." Make no mistake, this man is pro Bible—he's just not pro HB 615.
Now, the legislature will have the opportunity to overturn Haslam's veto, which wouldn't be that hard: as The Tennesseean explains, a simple majority in both chambers would be enough to veto the veto.
The bill authors make the case that the bible is both historically and economically significant for the state, arguing that: "families recorded their own vital records in family Bibles that were passed down through the generations," and that "printing the Bible is a multimillion dollar industry for the state with many top Bible publishers headquartered in Nashville."
The bill also compares the reach of the bible in Tennessee to that of the state insect (the beetle) and agriculture insect (the bee).
In a statement, bill sponsor Representative Jerry Sexton said that "according to polling, 62% of all Tennesseans favor making the Holy Bible the state book in order to recognize its significance from a historical, economic and cultural standpoint." He added, ""Senator [Steve] Southerland and I are prepared to move forward with a veto override and we plan to do exactly that." Southerland has reportedly already put in a notice with the Senate clerk making that intention clear.
For now, the ACLU of Tennessee is taking Haslam's veto as a victory. The organization said in a statement, “We applaud Governor Haslam for his leadership in sending a clear message that Tennessee values and respects the religious freedom of all Tennesseans."
If the bill eventually becomes law, Tennessee would be the first state to have the Bible as its official book.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.