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Tennessee Republican Tries (Again) to Make the Bible the “Official State Book”

Feb 10, 2020

By Hemant Mehta

In 2015, Tennessee State Rep. Jerry Sexton filed a bill to make the Holy Bible the official state book.

It didn’t work. While the bill passed in the House, the Senate did nothing with it, in part because even Attorney General Herbert Slatery said it was unconstitutional.

In 2016, Sexton’s GOP colleague State Sen. Steve Southerland tried again… and failed.

Now Sexton is giving it another shot. The substantive part of House Bill 2778 is just a sentence long: “The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book.”

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13 comments on “Tennessee Republican Tries (Again) to Make the Bible the “Official State Book”

  • Hi All😀

    I’m from england, and an Atheist……


    Forgive me if I sound silly, but I’m hoping someone can educate me me here

    I can’t understand this……I here most politicians in America don’t get by if they don’t claim to be christian, so why isn’t the “holy” book being allowed as the state book!!???

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  • Hi Christopher

    …why isn’t the “holy” book being allowed as the state book!!???


    Because according to the 1st Amendment of the Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” otherwise known as the Establishment Clause. 

    It’s kind of a big deal over here.


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  • 3
    Michael 100 says:

    Christopher Colbert # 1. Allow me to take a stab at your excellent question.  Vicki is correct about why the Bible cannot be a state book — the constitution prohibits it pure an simple.  But why, as you observe, do politicians of both parties feel the need to demonstrate how Christian they are?  

    On the one hand, at the end of the 18th century, the founders of the Republic were influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, and they knew the dangers of a State Church, whether Catholic or otherwise.  So it was written into the body of our Constitution that no religious test would ever be a prerequisite of any public office.  And, the first article of the Bill of Rights states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  President Thomas Jefferson wrote this means there is a wall of separation between church and state.  The Bible should have no place in our government.  That’s the American ideal.

    However, the founders also allowed the institution of slave labor to continue because of its economic importance, mostly to wealthy white southern plantation owners — such as Mr Jefferson.  When the movement to abolish slavery began to gain momentum in the mid-19th century, several churches, not the least of which was the Baptist church — the very church that sought the protection of the wall of separation— split into northern and southern divisions, opposing and favoring slavery, respectively.  The southern Christians found ample support in the Bible for their right to own slaves, for white supremacy, and for racial segregation.  Although the south lost the civil war, after a few years of Reconstruction, the whites regained control through terror and laws known as Jim Crow, again supported by biblical texts.  When the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century forced the end of Jim Crow the southern whites again turned to religion.  When schools were forced to desegregate, white parents took their children out of public schools and enrolled them in Christian Academies.  Money was cut from public education budgets and property taxes were lowered so white families could afford tuition in the private, all white, Christian academies.  So we now had (have) a re-segregated school system based on religion.  

    The other thing that happened was after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, capitalist opposition was led, or at least greatly aided by religious leaders, especially in the 1950s. That was when business and political leaders started having Prayer Breakfasts, and we became “one nation under god.”  This is explained in detail in a book by that name by Kevin Kruse.  As you can imagine, the religious leaders, who were supported financially by the industrialists, were quite antithetical to organized labor, any kind of social legislation, etc. etc.  Likewise, politicians who look to industrialists for money, and to preachers for votes, must act as though the Bible is their polar star.  Many are not ashamed of blatant hypocrisy.  

    Although we are going through a period of secularization, there are still large portions of the American electorate who believe their majority status is guaranteed by and protected by religion.  They therefore support politicians who pay lip service to religious platitudes, even those who lead despicable lives, and who amass fortunes picking the pockets of those who vote for them.  

    This is the very reason why atheists should not take too much comfort in the growing number of Nones.  The Nones must be organized and educated to understand the danger religion poses to their intellectual, as well as social/political well-being.  Although Atheists don’t, and should never, advocate for a prohibition on religion, we should insist that the wall of separation be strictly observed.  People should know that atheism is the only rational position in the 21st Century. Everyone should be educated enough to counter religious arguments. And no one, voter or elected official, should be ashamed to state their atheism.

    Does that help at all?

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  • Wow, Michael, that was quite the tour de force! Fascinating too – there was a lot there I hadn’t heard before, or at least, connections I hadn’t been aware of before, and it makes a lot of things about the state of the US fall into place. Great post – thank you.

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  • Christopher Colbert says:

    Hi All😀

    I’m from England, and an Atheist……

    Many people have short memories or have not  read the appropriate history.

    Religious groups will cooperate with even the most despicable (fascist)  regimes in exchange for being allowed to dominate the minds of the population.


    Franco regime
    During the Franco years, Roman Catholicism was the only religion to have legal status; other worship services could not be advertised, and only the Roman Catholic Church could own property or publish books. The government not only paid priests’ salaries and subsidized the church, but it also assisted in the reconstruction of church buildings damaged by the war. Laws were passed abolishing divorce and banning the sale of contraceptives. Catholic religious instruction was mandatory, even in public schools.
    Concordat of 1953

    The bullet point list from the 1953  Concordat showing the  specific privileges granted the Catholic Church gives key points, but  the details in Wikipedia on the Franco Regime,  should really act as a warning for those who may politically sleep-walk into theocracy!

    The fact that atheism is a punishable statutory crime in Egypt and other Islamic countries should also make the point.

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  • 7
    Michael 100 says:

    Alan…#6. We should always remember what Christopher Hitchens said, i.e. fascism is the political arm of the right wing of the Catholic Church. Lay people as well as scholars might be interested in questions of faith, but the officers of the corporate church — bishops, Abbotts, evangelists, etc are interested in money, property, and political power.

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  • 9
    Michael 100 says:

    You’re welcome Christopher. You asked a great question that went to the core of American politics.  I think American history is full of irony:  we strive to be we the embodiment of the Age of Enlightenment, but at the same time the legacy of racism, religion and greed continues to plague us.  The good news, I hope, is that our better side will prevail.  See Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now.

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  • Michael 100,  Christopher Colbert, AlanforDiscussion, Marco, Vicki,

    As I understand it one of the key point of maintaining the wall of separation between church and state isn’t just to protect us against state/religious tyranny  but in promoting competition among religious sects, denominations, so that no one  religion gains sway and power over the state. Question though is, since most politicians here in the states profess to being Christians of the Protestant variety, or at least pandering to their constituents,  how much of that ‘wall’ really exists in actual practice, when it comes to say crafting, legislation, deliberating on policy decisions etc.?

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  • 11
    Michael 100 says:

    Christopher Freemyers #10. Very good point.  President Jefferson wrote the phrase “wall of separation” in response to a letter from a Baptist congregation who sought protection from a more powerful denomination – Congregationalists.  Nevertheless, it seems like the religious people, especially the Christians of all demonstrations, do not want to recognize the wall of separation.  They want to display their symbols, and conduct their rituals in governmental forums, including public schools.  They think their beliefs should be the basis of law. Examples are laws forbidding the teaching of evolution, laws forbidding interracial marriage, and laws forbidding abortion, to name three that leap to mind. Sometimes various religious views clash, for example on questions of capital punishment.  Whether they like it or not, the wall has remained pretty solid, but there is a clear and present danger with the federal judiciary being empaneled by the current administration.  This brings me to the point on which I constantly bring up— the need to organize and educate, especially at the local level because many of these battles take place in state legislatures and city councils.

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  • Michael 100,

    Exactly, the more extremists among Christians will use the power of the state to coerce obedience to their  doctrines and beliefs if given the chance to do so. What’s more galling than this is the religious moderates and those who accommodate them. It’s this more than anything that allows the ‘fundamentalists’ of all stripes to operate. Or maybe there Are no true ‘moderate religious people.

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  • Or maybe there Are no true ‘moderate religious people.

    One of my dearest friends is a pastor in a small congregation. I’m not sure of the denomination; I’ve gone to a few of his services, one of which celebrated Eucharist. He’s a very good orator, and a hell of man. Kind, compassionate, witty. If I had to describe the ideal example of a Christian, he would be it. A lot of that, IMO, is his inherent nature–he’s just a really nice guy, no religion needed. So, to address your speculation that there are no true moderates, I think there are, but they don’t make headlines.

    And that is key. Remember the Moral Majority? Their so-called morals were questionable, and they certainly were not the majority, but they made headlines. They also made a lot of money, which enabled them to worm their way into our politics. We still hear from Pat Robertson (will that man ever die?!), and the Falwell offshoots, and the Grahams, and a big part of that comes down to the ever-accurate adage: follow the money.

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