Tennessee recognizes some of its most prized objects in its state symbols which include some of the following: raccoons, milk, porcelain painting, tomatoes and the eastern box turtle. But, one proposed bill to make the Bible Tennessee’s state book has received national attention due to its controversy.
Recently, 38 members and faculty from Belmont University signed a letter to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam voicing their opposition of House Bill 0615 that would designate the Bible as Tennessee’s state book.
“As persons of Christian faith, professional educators and citizens of the state of Tennessee, we would like to make the following comments about HB 0615. The comments do not represent any official position of the university, nor of the faculty as a whole,” said the letter, which was emailed to the Vision by signee Mark McEntire, professor of biblical studies.
As well as several faculty members from the College of Theology and Christian Ministry who signed the letter, other departments and schools of study participated.
Although these professors and faculty come from a variety of backgrounds, each signed expressing the appreciation of the Bible and its historical resistance to governmental control for thousands of years, the letter said.
“The Bible has made its own way in the world for a long time, and it has done well, without being granted special status by legislators and governors,” according to the letter. “It has been at its best when it has accompanied those who love it as they have struggled for justice in a dangerous world, against the power of kings and states. We urge the state of Tennessee not to take state action concerning the Bible, but rather let it continue to make its own way in the world, unfettered by government acts of acquisition.”
Dr. Maggie Monteverde was one of the professors to sign the letter, driven by her belief that making the Bible the official book of the state would send a message of exclusion to people of faiths other than Christianity.
“I believe one of the most important factors in the success of our nation as a nation is that we purport at least to believe and structure our society on the notion that church and state should not be one because of the degree to which the state can lend power to religious intolerance,” she said. “We don’t always succeed in achieving this separation, but for the benefit of state and church alike I believe it is best that we strive to do so.”
This letter comes in light of the Senate passing the bill in a 19-8 vote, sending the bill to the governor’s desk on Monday.
Supporters of the bill argue the Bible has had a critical influence on the formation of Tennessee and the country, according to the Tennessean.
“The very founding of our nation — the very form of government that we have today — was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture,” said Sen. Kerry Roberts.
But, the letter written by Belmont faculty and members highlights the importance of the separation of church and state, and the violation of religious freedom the bill would impose on the constitution.
“We wish to add another kind of objection. This proposed law takes something we treasure for the beauty and freedom it gives us, and reduces it to an item on a list and an occasional symbol for a political organization,” the letter said.
The Tennessean quoted Gov. Haslam as having constitutional concerns and “some personal reservations” with the bill on March 30.
The bill will automatically become law if Haslam does not sign it or veto it within 10 days after it reaches his desk–excluding Sundays.
Read the full letter here: Dear Governor Haslam.