King James meets ‘Rocky Top’

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There’s no doubt that the Bible is a popular book. Jews and Christians love it (although the contents of their Bibles differ). For Muslims, too, the Bible is divine revelation. In Tennessee, some want to make it an officially recognized state symbol, along with the tomato (state fruit), milk (state beverage) and rescued dog or cat (state pet).

The designation would “memorialize the role the Bible has played in Tennessee’s history,” said Republican state Rep. Jerry Sexton, who sponsored the legislation putting the Bible on a par with “Rocky Top” (state song). Sexton’s bill passed the state House but was killed in the Tennessee Senate.

Lined up against Sexton and his backers were fellow Republicans and Bible-believing Christians, including Tennessee’s governor, attorney general and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who, perhaps flippantly, said there was something not quite wholesome behind the legislation. “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,” Norris said.

A similar bill, introduced in Mississippi this year, was killed by Republicans and Democrats. A Louisiana bill was withdrawn last year by its sponsor. In Tennessee, some opponents argued that the bill was a clear state endorsement of religion that violated the state and federal constitutions.

One lawmaker said that as a fiscal conservative he didn’t want the state to have to pay the millions in court costs when the law is challenged. Others pointed out that the Bible isn’t even a “book.”

Not only that, but there isn’t even a single version — at least not in English. Which would be the official version of the official book? The King James Version? The New International Version? The Living Bible? Or would the state opt for the original Hebrew of the Tanach and Greek of the New Testament?

The whole thing makes a mockery of the Word that so many revere. It also cheapens religion, by proposing to put the Bible on the same level as the Eastern Box Turtle (official state reptile). The proponents of these bills probably think they are doing a good thing with the Good Book and may not realize how potentially divisive and inappropriate their efforts are. Thank heavens, this particular use of religion as a wedge has been cast down to legislative purgatory.

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