Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is saying no to a bill that would make the Bible the official state book in what is the first veto of the year.
In a letter to legislators, Haslam cites an attorney general’s opinion that says honoring the Bible in such a way would violate the First Amendment and the Tennessee constitution. And in his personal opinion, Haslam says the bill “trivializes the Bible,” calling it a “sacred text.”
“Our founders recognized that when the church and state were combined, it was the church that suffered in the long run,” he writes.
Haslam says he disagrees with anyone trying to “drive religion out of the public square.” He says he supports politicians motivated by faith. However, he says making the Bible the state book would be akin to the “establishment of religion that the country’s founders warned against.”
Bible bill, HB 615, passed with a relatively slim majority in the state House and Senate, but still enough votes to override a veto if lawmakers choose to challenge the governor. The measure’s sponsors said after the governor’s announcement that they will try to do so.
The ACLU of Tennessee lobbied against the bill and was one of the first civil rights groups to issue a statement.
“Religion thrives when it is left in the hands of families and faith communities,” executive director Hedy Weinberg writes. “The governor’s veto of this unconstitutional legislation ensures that religious freedom can flourish in Tennessee.”