NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A freshman Tennessee lawmaker wants to make the Bible the “official state book.”
Rep. Jerry Sexton, a Republican from Bean Station, is sponsoring legislation that would add the Bible to the state symbols of Tennessee.
It’s unclear whether the proposal would meet separation of church and state provisions in the federal and state constitutions. The Tennessee Constitution says “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”
Tennessee’s official state symbols already include the tomato as the state fruit and the tulip popular as the state tree. The state also has several state songs, including “Tennessee Waltz.”
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said in an email that Sexton’s proposal would violate the state and federal constitutions.
She said that “privileging one religion over another is not only unconstitutional, it sends the wrong message, marginalizing the thousands of Tennesseans who choose to practice other religions or not to practice religion.”
Similar proposals to make the Bible the state book failed in Mississippi earlier this month and Louisiana last year. Supporters maintained that they weren’t trying to force religion on anyone or require Bible reading.
Some Tennessee lawmakers last year sought to have the phrase “In God We Trust” displayed above the main Capitol entrances and behind the speakers’ podiums in both the House and Senate. But the measure was ultimately watered down to have the State Capitol Commission study the feasibility of painting the national motto in the tunnel connecting the Legislative Plaza with the Capitol.