The Bible isn’t Tennessee’s official book — yet.
Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a bill Thursday that would have granted the Christian holy book that status.
In his veto message Thursday, Mr. Haslam cited Article I, Section 3 of the Tennessee Constitution which states “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”
He added that while “I strongly disagree with those who are trying to drive religion out of the public square,” that battle is “very different from the governmental establishment of religion.”
Proponents said the honor merely recognizes the Bible’s historic role in building the overwhelmingly Christian state, but Mr. Haslam said that was no better.
“My personal feeling is that this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text. If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn’t be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance,” he added in his veto message.
The Legislature has time to override the veto, and the bill passed with votes to spare in both chambers.
Both the bill’s legislative sponsors — Sen. Steve Southerland of Morristown and Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station — vowed an override attempt next week, the last of the legislative session. Both men are ordained ministers.
“According to polling, 62 percent of all Tennesseans favor making the Holy Book the state book in order to recognize its significance from a historical, economic and cultural standpoint. Sen. Southerland and I are prepared to move forward with a veto override and we plan to do exactly that,” Mr. Sexton said.
In addition, Tennessee’s gubernatorial veto power is weak — only a majority is required to override the chief executive, not the supermajorities almost all the states and the federal government require.
However, none of Mr. Haslam’s three previous vetoes have been overridden, as party loyalty and a sense of form appear to make Tennessee legislators and chamber leaders reluctant to merely repeat earlier votes on bills when facing an override vote.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said her group backs the governor’s veto and applauded “his leadership in sending a clear message that Tennessee values and respects the religious freedom of all Tennesseans.”
• Victor Morton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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