An attempt to override Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s veto of a bill that would have made the Bible the official state book of Tennessee failed April 20.
After nearly two hours of discussion, members of the Tennessee House of Representatives voted 50-43 against overriding the veto, The Tennessean reported. An override would have required only a simple majority in both chambers of the state legislature, a margin it achieved comfortably upon initial passage.
Because the House did not vote to override, the Senate did not take up the issue. The veto was Haslam’s fourth since taking office in 2011, according to The Tennessean.
Rep. Jerry Sexton, the bill’s House sponsor and a former Tennessee Baptist pastor, told Baptist Press he believes some lawmakers who supported the measure initially opposed an override because of “pressure that was put on from the governor’s office.” Sexton added he is not aware of any other factors that influenced legislators to change their votes.
Following the vote, Sexton, a first-term Republican, told local reporters he knew overriding the veto would be “a strong uphill climb.”
“There is so much oppression today of Christian beliefs and values,” Sexton said according to The Tennessean. Although being a Christian “is not the popular thing to do,” he said, “I stand today to say that I’m a Christian and I’m proud that I am and I’m proud that I live in a country that I have the freedom to do that.”
During floor debate, Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver speculated that overriding Haslam’s veto could help spark a national revival.
“What if we are the state that fans the flame and causes other states to pay attention and read our actions,” Weaver, a Republican, said according to The Tennessean. “What if Tennessee was the state that started the revival that this nation so desperately needs.”
Haslam told NPR he opposed making the Bible Tennessee’s state book for three reasons.
“One, I had some issues around the constitutionality,” Haslam said April 21. “But even more than that, personally I think it trivializes the Bible. We have an official state insect and state salamander and 500 other things. That’s not what the Bible is.
“And then third, the bill was passed kind of under the premise that, ‘Well, we’re not honoring it as Holy Scripture. We’re honoring it for its historical and economic significance.’ Well, either the Bible is the inspired Word of God or it’s not. But don’t … pretend you’re honoring it for one thing when you’re really honoring it for another.”
Randy C. Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, had previously noted his disappointment following Haslam’s veto.
“Holy Scripture needs no human affirmation,” Davis said. “The authority of God’s Word has not been diminished because a state hasn’t declared it ‘official.’ Personal affirmation of the Bible and regularly reading the Bible is far more important than state-sanctioned recognition of the Bible.”
In 2015, a similar bill passed the Tennessee House but was killed in the Senate through a procedural vote.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector of the Tennessee Baptist Convention; David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)