Saturday , February 24 2024
Tennessee trying to name The Bible as the state's official book is the latest attempt to insert religion into government and challenge the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause.

Tennessee’s Troubling Move to Name the Bible as the State’s Official Book

You’ve undoubtedly heard of state birds and state flowers, even state songs,but the Tennessee House has passed legislation that would make The Holy Bible the state’s “official book.” Both Mississippi and Louisiana have considered similar measures, voting them down because of the “Constitutional” difficulties in enacting such legislation.  To say the least.Tennessee Establishment Clause of U.S. Constitution

The measure, driven by Republican representatives (although many of them voted against, including the Speaker), passed 55-38, over the objections of the state’s attorney general and its governor. Tennessee Attorney General, Republican Herbert Slatery understands the fundamental flaw in the move. He crafted a legal opinion, published before the vote, on the proposed legislation, which outlined those very clear issues:

“Designating The Holy Bible as the official state book of Tennessee would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the federal Constitution and Article I, § 3, of the Tennessee Constitution, which provides ‘that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship…” The adopting of the Bible, he said, as the “official state book” would “inherently carry the imprimatur and endorsement of the government.”

Some of those against to the measure oppose it, not on Constitutional grounds, but because labeling the Bible as state symbol trivializes, not canonizes, it. The legislation is scheduled to comes up for a vote in the state Senate today (Thursday), and with the chamber heavily balanced in favor of the GOP 28-5, it will likely pass, unless Tennessee legislators come to their Constitutional senses. If it’s passed in the Senate, it likely will become official, since overriding the Governor’s likely veto requires only a simple majority.

This new attempt to insert religion into government points to something very troubling to me, particularly in Deep Red America. Despite the fantasies of Dominionists, who believe that the U.S. is holy “Christian Nation,” it’s not a scenario likely to be realized soon. But, each nibble at that separation between Church and State moves the goalposts ever closer to that desire, especially at the state local levels.

First Tennessee, then Mississippi or Alabama, then Nebraska or Montana or Oklahoma. Or Kansas. Name The Holy Bible as the official state book (and have no doubt that we’re talking about the Christian Bible here, in whatever form is adopted), and how much closer are we to proclaiming that Christianity is the “official state religion?” Preposterous, you say? Hardly.

Even if the Tennessee State Senate votes the measure down, this will be far from the last attempt to draw us closer to the Dominionist idea that the United States is a “Christian Nation.” This is a country of many beliefs and strains of beliefs. Belief (or non-belief) should never enter into the equation of policy-making, whether on the federal, state, or local level. Official “state books,” government-funded creationist parks, required school prayer, science denial, limitations on birth control availability other aspects of women’s health care, all serve to inch us closer to “establishment.”

I had always believed that religion would never have a place in governance beyond informing the ethics and personal beliefs of our lawmakers. As we are all influenced by upbringing, experience and individual beliefs. But now, I’m less and less sure with each passing year, each new nibble, each new proposal to alter science and history textbooks.

We must remain vigilant, protecting the Constitutional proscription against establishment of a State religion. And that goes for the individual states and localities, as well as the federal government. Little by little, and bit by bit, until we wake up one morning to realize we’ve been had.

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About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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One comment

  1. Dr Joseph S Maresca

    The 10 Commandments speak to individuals (not institutions) using the words “Thou shalt not”. Five or more of the commandments intersect with the civil and criminal law.
    Examples of the congruence of civil/criminal law and the Commandments include:
    o Thou shalt not commit murder.

    o Thou shalt not commit adultery.
    o Thou halt not steal.
    o Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. i.e. giving false testimony

    o Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife or goods.

    Jesus Christ alludes to the separation of Church and State by saying:
    “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”