Despite far more pressing problems, Tennessee Senate and House committees have been working to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee — adding the Bible with catfish (the state fish) as a symbol of the state. Of course, cat fish are not matters of faith (beyond the hope and prayer of every fisherman). The House sponsor, Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, added “talking points” to bill. Sexton was only elected in 2015 but is wasting no time in trying to rollback on the separation of church and state.
The bill was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee by a 7-0-2 vote. Only two abstained. Not a single opposing vote. The House State Government Committee approved the bill (HBO615) by a voice vote about an hour later.
Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown insists that it must be constitutional because “It doesn’t in any way, shape, form or fashion say that anyone has to read this book. It doesn’t mean anyone has to believe in the tenets of this book.”
Legislators could argue that they are associating the state with the generally accepted elements of the Bible such as the values expressed in the book. However, rabbis and clerics of other religious are objecting. The book also ascribes to one view of the Almighty. Moreover, the official designation will require some state action by employees in listing and featuring the book. It would raise an interesting and potentially expensive court case for the state. If the legislators tried to erect a monument to the Bible, there would be a credible challenge. What is the difference between a monument on the grounds and this designation?
Putting aside the question of the separation of powers, the claim of constitutionality does not make this the right thing to do. There are many citizens in Tennessee who follow other faiths or no faith. This is the majority forcing all citizens to associate with the religious book of one faith. If one truly believe in free exercise of religion, it should come with a respect for the faiths of others. The concept of tolerance and pluralism runs deeply in our values as a nation.
The fact that not a single member had the courage to oppose this bill on principle is a deeply sad reflection on our current politics. Imagine who people would feel is a bill passed making the Koran the official book or the Torah. It is not enough to say that you might be able to get away with dong something wrong — I learned that as a kid from the Bible.
Source: The Tennessean