Lawmaker tries again to designate Bible as official state book of Tennessee

State attorney general says law would be at odds with state and U.S. constitutions

Bible tile
photo Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, listens to a discussion on the Senate floor in Nashville in 2012.
photo Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III speaks to attendees at the Pachyderm Club on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
photo Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, presides over a floor session in Nashville on April 16, 2015. Ramsey opposed a bill seeking to make the holy Bible the official book of Tennessee. AP Photo/Erik Schelzig

NASHVILLE -- A new chapter opens today on a controversial bill that designates the Bible as Tennessee's official state book.

Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, said Monday he plans to renew his push on the legislation today before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Vanderbilt did the poll and 60 percent of the people said they want it," Southerland said, alluding to a Vanderbilt University poll last spring that showed high bipartisan support for the measure and even higher Republican and tea party backing.

Asked whether he can get the bill through the Judiciary Committee, Southerland said, "we'll find out."

Southerland and House Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, cite the Bible's prominence in Tennessee history for the designation as the state's official book.

The bill passed the House last year. But it ran into problems in the Senate with state Attorney General Herbert Slatery issuing a legal opinion saying that making the religious document state government's official book runs afoul of both the state and U.S. constitutions.

It was driven from the Senate floor in 2015 amid opposition from top GOP leaders as well as Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Ramsey warned making the move risked litigation and also demeaned a book many consider holy by placing it in Tennessee's official state Blue Book alongside other symbols like reptiles and a murder ballad.

"I am a Christian, but I am also a constitutionalist and a conservative," Ramsey said in a statement at the time. "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. We don't need to put the Bible beside salamanders, tulip poplars and 'Rocky Top' to appreciate its importance to our state."

Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said last year "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."

The bill was re- referred last year from the Senate floor back to the State and Local Government Committee.

But for unknown reasons, it now has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to the legislative website. Some Republican senators believe the bill has a good chance of passing.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or