NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he remains opposed to a renewed effort to make the Holy Bible the official state book of Tennessee.
Haslam initially voiced opposition to the measure before it was derailed over constitutional concerns in the state Senate last year, and sent back to committee. The bill is now awaiting a new vote in the upper chamber of the Legislature.
"The Bible is the most important book in my life, and I think in the world," Haslam told reporters at the state Capitol. "But that's very different than being the state's official book."
But the governor stopped short of saying he would veto the bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, because he wants to see the measure in its final form before making up his mind.
Southerland told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that his bill is aimed at honoring the historical significance of the Bible in Tennessee, and not as a state endorsement of religion.
State Attorney General Herbert Slatery warned last year that the bill would run afoul of both the U.S. and state constitutions.
Some opponents, including Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, have argued that the Bible is far too sacred to be trivialized by being placed alongside other state symbols such the tomato as Tennessee's official fruit, the cave salamander as the state amphibian and the square dance as the state folk dance. Lawmakers earlier this year added the .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle as Tennessee's official rifle.
But it will be difficult for lawmakers, especially in an election year, to cast a vote that could be portrayed by political rivals as being as opposed to the Bible.
The bill passed the House on a 55-38 vote last year despite House Speaker Beth Harwell's opposition.
"I really think it demeans the holy word of God by making it just a book with historical significance," the Nashville Republican said at the time.