Tennessee pulls back from the nuttiness of designating the Bible as the state's official book
Daryl Cagle, cagle.com (click to enlarge)
So it appears that Tennessee will not, after all, designate the Bible as the state's official book. On Wednesday, the state House voted 55-38 to do just that. But as Dave Boucher reported Thursday evening for The Tennessean:
The Bible will not become the official book of Tennessee this year.On Wednesday, after the large-majority House vote in favor of the bill, the outcome didn't look nearly so sensible. To their credit, though, a host of red-blooded Tennessee conservatives got the issue right. Like the state's lieutenant governor, Ron Ramsey.
Bolstered by opposition from Republican leadership, the Senate voted 22-9 to send the Bible to committee, effectively killing the bill a day after it was adopted by the House.
"This isn't the time or place now in the full Senate floor to delve into that. We really need to look into it in committee," Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said about two hours before the vote.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Attorney General Herbert Slatery oppose the bill; Slatery recently announced he thinks the bill violates the state and federal constitutions.
Norris led the effort to kill the bill in the Senate. He asked for the bill to be sent back to the Senate Judiciary Committee to address the Slatery opinion. The Senate agreed, supporting Norris and effectively killing the bill for the year.
"I sure hope it won't pass. I think it'll be a dark day for Tennessee if it does," Norris said Wednesday.
"All I know is that I hear Satan snickering. He loves this kind of mischief. You just dumb the good book down far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol, and you're on your way to where he wants you."
Bill sponsor Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and other supporters argue the bill highlights the economic and historical impact of the Bible in Tennessee. The House passed the bill by a 55-38 vote Wednesday after two hours of debate over the course of two days.
"The Bible has great historical and cultural significance in the state of Tennessee," Southerland said Wednesday, at times getting emotional on the Senate floor.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, has been outspoken in his belief that the bill belittles the Bible by placing it next to state symbols. After the vote, Ramsey heralded the decision to send the bill back to committee.The reference to fiscal irresponsibility is interesting, and brings me to the case made by The Frisky's Robyn Pennacchia, who wrote after the state House passage on Wednesday:
"I am a Christian, but I am also a constitutionalist and a conservative. It would be fiscally irresponsible to put the state in a position to have to spend tax dollars defending a largely symbolic piece of legislation," Ramsey said in a statement.
"We don't need to put the Bible beside salamanders, tulip poplars and 'Rocky Top' in the Tennessee Blue Book to appreciate its importance to our state."
The Senate will vote on it today, and then it will go to the governor, and then if it’s passed people will sue and if it’s not we’ll have to hear about how Christians are oppressed even in the Bible Belt. I will probably have to write another goddamned blog post about it.Mercifully, the Tennessee Senate similarly put a stop to the madness, at least for this year. But that doesn't mean this phony-baloney issue is going to go away, and everything Robyn says here is assuredly to the point. Let's hope she doesn't have to keep saying it.
As much as I want to make this about the separation of church and state–and it most definitely is, even the TN state attorney general agrees with me there–there are a few things about this vote that actually bothered me more. In particular, this line from the New York Times article on the subject [actually an AP report -- Ed.].
While supporters acknowledged the likelihood of a lawsuit if the bill becomes law, some said it would be worth the expense.Really? With 17 percent of your population living below the poverty line, this is what you think is fine to spend money on, Tennessee? Seriously? You’re one of the ten poorest states in the country, and you’re going to spend your people’s tax money on some stupid and purely symbolic gesture that people in your state will most likely only be reminded of during pub trivia?
To boot, not to be petty, but Tennessee is like, number 11 in terms of taker states. They take in far more federal tax dollars than they put out. We’re giving them money, and they are cool with spending theirs on–I don’t know, trying to make Jewish people feel unwelcome or something? You know, given how much Republican lawmakers go on and on about their fears that poor people are secretly purchasing filet mignon with their $29 a week food stamp budget, you’d think they’d oppose measures like this which barely serve any purpose other than to court lawsuits.
That’s not entirely true though. I’m going to say a pretty large part of it is also bread and circuses. These people are basically just distracting the poor white Christians in their state by going “Look at how special we think you are! You just go and ignore the fact that we have the sixth highest unemployment rate in the country, OK? Just think about how nice you’d feel if the government gave a ringing endorsement of your personal choice of religion, and about how all the mean atheists want to take that away from you! They don’t want you to be special! Look here, don’t look there!”
Notice that the other two states who have tried to advance such measures–and failed–were Mississippi and Louisiana. Both of which, I’m sorry, have a lot more important things to attend to than trying to test the boundaries of the separation of church and state with a vote on what the state book is going to be. You know, there is that saying about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.