When Tennessee declared the raccoon as its state animal and the Eastern Red Cedar as its state tree, there likely wasn’t a huge discussion.
Making the Bible the state book, however, should stir some debate.
Tennessee state representative Jerry Sexton, a Republican from Bean Station, is pushing for legislation to make the Bible Tennessee’s official book – a move that should rightfully incite controversy. State symbols are arbitrary, I’ll admit. I couldn’t tell you what our “official” state fossil is (after a Google search, I discovered that it’s the Brachiopod), but making the Bible an official symbol is exclusionary for a large percentage of the state’s population.
According to the Association of Statisticians for American Religious Bodies, Tennessee is made up of approximately 44-50 percent Christian adherents. Nearly half of the state does not practice Christianity.
Regardless of whether they show up on Sunday, the non-Christian half of Tennessee works there, raises families there and supports business there. To make the Bible the state book is to imply that these people are not important enough to be represented. Cities like Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga make Tennessee a thriving state for tourism. Ridiculous proposals like this won’t help people feel welcome to the Volunteer state.
Sexton should probably read the Bible before he pushes for it to become a state symbol. On his campaign website, the freshman representative said “I am more pro-life than your pastor, more for the Second Amendment than Davy Crockett and more for traditional marriage than Adam and Eve.”
I’m not a priest, but I don’t remember reading about Adam and Eve discussing gay marriage over a cup of coffee at the breakfast table. In fact, marriage was not a concept. They were just created to populate the earth. This isn’t the first time a lawmaker proposed to make the Bible a state symbol. Similar proposals failed in Mississippi and Louisiana because of separation of church and state clauses.
According to the Tennessee Constitution, “no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” That seems pretty loud and clear to me, thought other people are having trouble understanding. That means this proposition is unconstitutional, on both a state and federal level. There is really no other way to beat around this bush. As far as religion goes, strength in numbers does not override laws. Having a large majority of Christians in our country does not mean that Christianity deserves any legal privileges over other religions.
As a representative of Tennessee, Sexton should make decisions in the best interest of his home. Creating this kind of tension seems to be doing just the opposite, as media outlets across the nation are taking humorous jabs at him. Normally I would leave the Bible Belt states be. What lawmakers choose to legislate there doesn’t affect me. But Tennessee is our close neighbor. Many of Murray State’s diverse student body come from there. They should all be included in the portrait of what makes Tennessee great – not just the people that Sexton deems worthy.
Column by Carly Besser, Opinion Editor