The Tennessee Senate voted 22-9 to send a bill seeking to make the Bible the official book of the state to a committee, a move that will effectively kill the proposal that was passed by the local House of Representatives.
"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," The Tennessean quoted Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, a Republican from Collierville, as saying hours before the vote.
Norris proposed that the bill be sent back to the Senate Judiciary Committee to address concerns raised by Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who recently said he is of the opinion that the bill violates the state and federal constitutions.
"I sure hope it won't pass. I think it'll be a dark day for Tennessee if it does," Norris earlier said, of the bill. "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 passed the House with a 55-38 vote Wednesday.
"History's going to tell us where we stand on this. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to have the side that I'm on," State Rep. Jerry Sexton, a Republican from Bean Station and a former pastor who proposed the bill, told The Tennessean after the House vote. "It may be kind to me in the future and it may not be kind, and that's okay. I made a decision for today and I feel good about it."
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam also opposed the bill even though he told The Associated Press that his faith is the "most important thing" in his life. "Anytime the state has gotten tied in with the church, it hasn't ended well for the church," he was quoted as saying.
Robert Blitt, a law professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law, told Time magazine that choosing an official state book is a clear endorsement of religion.
"I don't think one could make a distinction that this is about invoking a generic god or having a national prayer breakfast," Blitt was quoted as saying. "I think there is something substantively different making the Bible the official book of the state. Are they going to be printing copies of the official state book? Hosting the state book on government websites? That gets into entanglements that are problematic."
Similar bills earlier introduced in Mississippi and Louisiana were also killed and abandoned after much scrutiny.
Louisiana proposed making the Bible its state book last year, but Republican State Rep. Thomas Carmody withdrew the bill, citing the argument for separation of church and state. Mississippi Democrats and Republicans killed the bill this year.