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Bible As Official State Book? Tennessee's Governor Vetoes Bill

The Legislature's bill "trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text," says Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, seen speaking with reporters in Nashville this week. Mark Humphrey/AP hide caption

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Mark Humphrey/AP

The Legislature's bill "trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text," says Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, seen speaking with reporters in Nashville this week.

Mark Humphrey/AP

One week after he formally received a bill to designate the Bible as Tennessee's state book, Gov. Bill Haslam has vetoed the measure. Critics say the bill isn't constitutional — and that it equates the Bible to the Tennessee walking horse or the Tennessee cave salamander.

The bill's backers are pledging to try to override the veto, which comes a year after similar legislation failed.

Explaining his veto in a letter to state Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, Haslam writes that in addition to the legal issues about the bill, "this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text."

In the letter reprinted by The Tennessean, Haslam adds, "Our founders recognized that when the church and state were combined, it was the church that suffered in the long run."

From Nashville, Blake Farmer of member station WPLN tells our Newscast unit:

"It's not a huge surprise that Gov. Haslam vetoed the bill making the Bible the state's official book. He gave a pretty clear warning before it passed. But already, the measure's sponsors have said they will attempt an override, and they may have the numbers. It doesn't even take quite as many votes as the legislation got in the first place."

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In the initial vote, the House approved the bill 55-38; the Senate, 19-8 — and in each case, three members did not vote. To override the veto, the bill's backers would need to get only a simple majority in each chamber.

As we reported when both houses of the Legislature approved the measure this month, the bill's backers say they want to recognize the Bible's role as a record of family history. They also cite the importance of Bible publishers in Nashville, where Thomas Nelson, Gideons International and United Methodists Publishing House account for a multimillion-dollar industry.