I had to pull out my copy of The Constitution earlier today. It’s just a pocket copy, but it is marked and highlighted and the pages are yellowed and bent. Nevertheless, I still refer to it often. I have to.
In a quick check of the First Amendment I found that it had not changed overnight. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” There was the ‘establishment clause,’ just as I had left it.
It’s sad that people often misinterpret this clause, and the entire first amendment. There are legislators and lawyers, and even citizen activists, who take this section of our Constitution either too far to the left or too far to the right.
Leftists would have us believe that the establishment clause is best interpreted as ‘freedom FROM religion.’ Their thought is that God, the Bible, and any Christian religious symbol should never be seen or heard anywhere in public. No school prayer, no Ten Commandment displays, no Nativity scenes at Christmas, no prayer before public meetings, no government acknowledgement of any Christian holiday. For reasons beyond my level of comprehension, these leftists also believe that the celebration of all things Islam is perfectly acceptable. But I digress….
Meanwhile, those on the far right are attempting to adopt the Bible as the state book of Tennessee.
Before I explain in depth why this is a ridiculous and unconstitutional notion, let me explain that my own Bible is, like my Constitution copy, dog-eared, underlined, highlighted, wrinkled, has stains from tears I’ve shed over it, and pages that are falling out from overuse. In other words, it has also been referred to frequently.
There are many reasons, though, why the Bible should not be the ‘official state book’ of TN or any other state. To do so would be placing the Christian religion above other religions. How would the Christian feel if the Q’uran was adopted as the state book? This Christian would bend over backward to stop that from happening as it would place the religion of Islam above Christianity. Thou shalt NOT! Not only is this a violation of the US Constitution, by establishing one religious belief system above another it’s also a violation of the TN State Constitution.
“Article I, Section 3. That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience; that no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any minister against his consent; that no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” (bold face mine)
To call the Bible the state book certainly gives preference to the Christian religious establishment and mode of worship. The TN state appointed Attorney General offered his opinion and concluded that the bill would violate the state and federal constitutions. Clearly, this is not legal.
Because it is unconstitutional, there are some unexpected outcomes that will be problematic. Anytime an unconstitutional law is passed, it leads to a lawsuit. The law doesn’t have to be blatantly illegal in order for such a lawsuit to be filed. Just a mere suggestion that it is will be all that attorneys for liberal organizations need to file a lawsuit against the state. Taxpayers will then pay for the court time and attorneys.
It is also unfair. About three seconds after this bill was submitted this session, the ACLU and the Civil Rights movement both indicated their disapproval. While I don’t agree on most of the issues supported by the ACLU, this is one in which they have come down on the right side. If a government is trying to be fair to all parties, then they shouldn’t be honoring the religion of one party over another.
Finally, the bill is silly. Tennessee, like every other state, has an official state bird, insect, song, dance, fruit, and beverage. Somehow it sounds foolish to place the Holy Bible in the same category as the mockingbird, honeybee, “Rocky Top,” square dance, tomato, and milk. Furthermore, as in other states, there are real issues in TN that need the time and attention in the legislative process far more than determining a state book. During this session, TN lawmakers have or will consider expanding Medicaid services, requiring informed consent and a waiting period for women seeking an abortion, repealing the Common Core education standards, and so much more.
One last point: neither the US or the TN Constitutions lists the rights of the people therein. Instead they both list the restrictions of the judicial, executive, and legislative bodies. The rights of the people are God-given. It’s the usurpation of authority by elected officials that should cause us to be concerned.
P.S. Shortly after this post was finished, the TN State Senate voted to oppose the Bible as the state book.