In the state of Tennessee, citizens take their Bible seriously.
So seriously, in fact, that the state legislature has just approved a bill designating “the Holy Bible as the official state book.”
If Governor Bill Haslam signs it into law, Tennessee will be the first state in the USA to have adopted the Holy Bible as a state symbol.
“What we’re doing here is recognizing it for its historical and cultural contributions to the state of Tennessee,” GOP State Senator Steve Southerland said. Bibles are often used to record important family milestones, and in the state of Tennessee, numerous printing firms have made a multimillion-dollar industry from producing just this one sacred text alone.
Even beyond that, however, the bill is a really powerful statement, given the current climate in the country. Reactions are strong in both directions.
“Critics called the proposal unconstitutional and sacrilegious,” Nashville Public Radio reported. “They also pointed out there are many versions of the Bible, none of which are specified in the resolution.”
Others argued that it wasn’t fair to citizens of different faiths. Another point raised was a legal issue, the question of separation of church and state. And some said simply, what about those who don’t believe in any Bible at all?
But perhaps that’s the point. The issue at stake here isn’t which version of which Bible is being used, or from which stream of monotheistic faith — and it’s not being forced down people’s throats.
“The Bible” — any Bible — is being declared to be the state book, not the state faith. It symbolizes that the Bible has proved important to the majority of the population over the state’s history.
The Bible is important to the state economically (it’s a multimillion-dollar printing industry item), culturally (the majority of the population is Christian or Jewish) and ethically (the wisdom to be found in the Bible is disputed by no one.) Even performers know it: There are few country songs heard at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville without roots in some Bible saying. It’s that kind of place.
Nevertheless, the bill may still face an uphill battle: the separation of “church and state” is still an issue; it was strong enough to prevent the state of Kentucky from allowing a special public display because its purpose was religious, rather than historical.Hana Levi Julian