By Dorothy Le —
The Bible may soon become the official book of Tennessee. The Tennessee State Senate has been in debate as of early this month on the decision to include the Bible as one of the official symbols of the state. The proposal stirred up the long-held dispute over the separation of church and state—with one opposing side arguing that it would violate provisions in the federal and state constitutions, especially the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which states that “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”
The editorial board saw no place for the Bible within the government, stating “We are governed by the people, not the religious authorities.” Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris claims that voting for or against the bill would be “fundamentally wrong because people are concerned that their vote will be misconstrued.”
Heidi Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, points to people’s instinctual fear of change as a public refusal of the bill. As she shares, “people feel that their way of life is somehow threatened simply because other, different ways of thinking about the world also exist alongside their own. Unfortunately some legislators are exploiting this fear, attempting to codify their own religious beliefs into law.”
Those supporting the bill, however, insist that the decision would simply be honoring the Bible’s historical significance and cultural contributions to Tennessee as oppose to its religious meaning. State Senator Kerry Roberts cites the founding fathers swearing on the Bible, as a way to move forward in support of the bill. The Republican-controlled state Senate passed the bill with a 19-8 vote.
This comes at a time when a growing number of Tennesseans are identifying themselves as non-Christians. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study on religious identity, 81% of the adult population are Christian, 3% are non-Christian faiths, and 14% are religiously unaffiliated.
Though the bill is approved by the state Senate, it now lies in the hands of Governor Bill Haslam to either veto or sign. He had previously called the bill as disrespectful of the religious text when the bill was proposed last year. If he takes no action for the next 10 days, the bill will automatically become enacted.