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Congratulations, God, The Tennessee House Just Loves Your Book! (Exciting Update!)
Happy Nice Time Update: See end of post! The Tennessee House voted Wednesday to name the Bible the official state book. But don't worry, it's not a violation of the First Amendment, because the people who wrote the bill said, nahh, it's exactly like a state song or a state bird, and nobody complains that those violate the Constitution, do they? And then they turned right around and said that they had to make the Bible the state book to show that Tennessee loves Jesus a whole bunch.
The bill doesn't specify which version of the Bible would become official, just the Holy one. The House rejected an amendment that would have specified that Andrew Jackson's personal copy of the Bible be designated the state book, which sort of weakens the claim that they're just honoring history.
On Tuesday, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery III said that the bill would violate both the U.S. Constitution and Tennessee's state constitution, insisting in a statement, "I am quite confident that the Bible's distinguished place in history will not be diminished in the absence of a state's endorsement."
But the issue of constitutionality didn't bother House Republicans much, because come on, it's the Bible. How could you vote against the Bible? Not that they're endorsing a religion or anything. And if the bill becomes law (the Senate takes it up Thursday), then by golly, it will be worth every penny of state money to defend the inevitable lawsuit. You see, explains the bill's sponsor, former pastor Jerry Sexton, the bill simply recognizes the Bible's historical and cultural significance, and also it is the literal holy Word of God. "It's not just a book," Sexton said. "I base my life, my ministry and my family on this book." But it's simultaneously not a violation of the separation of church and state, we suppose, because did you know that phrase isn't actually in the Constitution, so there?
"There are some things that are worth standing up for," said Rep. Andy Holt, a Republican. "Markets, money and military are meaningless without morals. I think it's time for our body to make a stand."
And yet strangely, some Tennessee Republicans seemed to think that maybe the Bible's very status as a holy thing is maybe a reason to not put it on a par with the state mineral (agate), state fruit (tomato), state beverage (milk), and state reptile (Former state Rep. Stacey Campfield ).
"Pilgrim's Progress is a book, To Kill a Mockingbird is a book," said Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain. "The Bible is the word of God, it's a whole a whole different level."
Even so, supporters of the bill scoffed that by making the Bible the official state book, they were somehow crossing a constitutional line or making one religion (the only true religion, they'll add) official somehow:
Rep. Micah Van Huss said if the Bible becomes the state book, people won't be required to worship or follow Christianity.
"The dog and the cat are state symbols and nobody in Tennessee is required to purchase a dog or a cat," the Republican said.
We looked, and it actually does not appear that Tennessee has an official dog or cat. It does have an official horse, and it's true -- no one is required to own a Tennessee Walking Horse. Yet.
Also, too, noted Rep. Sexton, there's nothing stopping a future session of the Lege from naming another state book, since Tennessee has several different state songs. If that's not an invitation for the Establishment Clause Trolls at the Satanic Temple to put forward their coloring book as a candidate, we don't know what is.
Gov. Bill Haslam has said that he's opposed to the bill, on constitutional grounds ( sure he is -- obviously he's a witch and must be burned!), but hasn't said whether he would veto it.
State Senate Republican leader Mark Norris opposes the bill (as did the entire Republican leadership of both chambers), telling reporters it would be "a dark day for Tennessee" if the Senate passes it:
"All I know is that I hear Satan snickering, he loves this kind of mischief," Norris said. "You just dumb the good book down far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol, and you're on your way to where he wants you."
We can't say we're completely on board with his supernatural reasoning for opposing the bill, but if it works, it works -- obviously nothing so boring as the U.S. Constitution has any influence on these idiots.
Update: Hooray! TheTennessee Senate voted 22-9 Thursday to send its version of the bill back to committee, pretty much burying it.
Freudian typo of the week, in The Tennessean's coverage:
Bolstered by opposition from Republican leadership, the Senate voted 22-9 to send the Bible to committee, effectively killing the bill a day after it was adopted by the House. [emphasis added]