Dave Boucher, The Tennessean 6:10 p.m. MST April 7, 2015
NASHVILLE — State Senate and House committees overwhelmingly approved measures Tuesday that would designate the Bible as the official book of Tennessee despite reservations from religious leaders and some lawmakers.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved the measure by a 7-0-2 vote. No lawmaker voted against the bill, but two abstained.
The House State Government Committee approved the bill in a voice vote about an hour later. The House version includes an amendment adding "talking points" in support of the bill, said the House sponsor, Rep. Jerry Sexton, a Republican from Bean Station, Tenn.
"It doesn't in any way, shape, form or fashion say that anyone has to read this book. It doesn't mean anyone has to believe in the tenets of this book," said GOP Rep. William Lamberth of Cottontown.
Earlier this year, Mississippi legislators filed four bills to designate the Bible as the Magnolia State's official book. All have died in committee.
Last year, a Louisiana legislator withdraw a similar bill before it went to a vote before that state's House, saying the debate had become a distraction.
“I mean, the Bible is my official book; it is. It shouldn't be put in the Blue Book with 'Rocky Top,' salamanders and tulip poplars.”
Ron Ramsey, Tennessee lieutenant governor
The Rev. Michael Williams of West End United Methodist Church in Nashville said he fears that making the Bible the official book would demean the Bible and what the Scriptures mean to himself and other Christians.
"I love catfish, but listen, it doesn't come close to the Holy Scripture," Williams said, noting his fears of listing the Bible with the state fish and other state items.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, a Republican from Collierville, Tenn., raised similar concerns when the bill came up recently. He raised those concerns again Tuesday, arguing the move belittles the Bible.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey agrees. The Blountville Republican told reporters Tuesday that he'd warned the bill sponsor he opposes the bill.
"I'm just adamantly opposed to that. I mean, the Bible is my official book; it is," Ramsey said. "It shouldn't be put in the Blue Book with Rocky Top, salamanders and tulip poplars."
He said he would vote against the measure when it comes to the Tennessee Senate floor.
The language of the original bill is very simple. It adds the sentence "The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book" to state law. It doesn't specify which version of the Bible.
That's one of the reasons the senior rabbi at The Temple, a Reform congregation in Nashville, opposed the bill. Rabbi Mark Schiftan said the Bible has many versions.
To include one Bible as the official book "inherently excludes the others."
"We urge you to reconsider and to contemplate this within your own hearts," Schiftan said.
David Fowler, a former lawmaker and official with conservative advocacy group the Family Action Council of Tennessee, spoke in support of the bill. He and others argued that the bill recognized the historical value of the Bible and didn't promote Christianity above other religions.
The bill next goes to the House and Senate calendar committees, the last step before it goes to the full Senate and House. Gov. Bill Haslam's stance on the bill was not immediately known Tuesday.