Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tennessee Governor Vetoes Bible Bill

One of the lessons that we can learn by studying countries with official state churches is that from the standpoint of spirituality, treating the church as an extension of government does not work out very well. Fundamentalists who call for an end to the separation of church and state don't seem to have learned this lesson, and I think that America's founding fathers were quite wise in insisting that the Establishment Clause be included in the Constitution.

The separation of church and state has worked out very well for churches and religious organizations. Among developed nations, the United States is one of the most religious and has among the highest rates of church attendance. Countries with state churches come in near the bottom of that list. It seems like if you turn a church into an extension of government, the result is that people start treating that church like any other government bureaucracy. And there's nothing spiritual about that.

Tennessee's Republican governor, Bill Haslam, is one Christian who seems to understand this. He recently vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the official book of the state of Tennessee, on the grounds that such a designation would trivialize the sacred nature of the text.

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."

Legislators supporting the bill have pledged to override Haslam's veto, and make the case that the printing of Bibles is a big industry in Tennessee, as Nashville is home to several large Bible publishers. Still, I applaud Haslam's action here and I think he's right. From a religious standpoint, the state cannot endorse one religion over another, and if this designation is not being made on religious grounds I do see it as trivializing. Given every example we have, the last thing fundamentalists should want is a state religion, or a state religious book.

Conservative Christians sometimes claim to be under attack by those who don't share their beliefs, but measures like this one is why. If they would just quit demanding special privileges for their religion above all others, the rest of us would leave them alone. It's that simple.

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