Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | April 15, 2015

Tennessee Attorney General Advises House that Proposed Bill is Unconstitutional. House Passes Bill Anyway.

We have noted before that one of the jobs of the Tennessee Attorney General is occasionally informing the General Assembly that some harebrained piece of legislation is almost certainly unconstitutional.

I am happy to report that our new attorney general is fulfilling his duty in this area — this time with regards to a bill that would designate the Bible as the “official book” of Tennessee.

From the Chattanooga Times-Free Press: “A bill seeking to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee would violate separation of church and state provisions in the federal and state constitutions, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery said in a legal opinion Monday.”

The AG Opinion is here. An excerpt:

Like the Ten Commandments, the Bible is undeniably a sacred text in the Christian faith. Legislative designation of The Holy Bible as the official book — as an official symbol — of the State of Tennessee, when viewed objectively, must presumptively be understood as an endorsement of religion and of a particular religion. Irrespective of the legislation’s actual purpose, common sense compels the conclusion that designation of the Bible as the official state book in practice and effect conveys a message of endorsement. Such an endorsement violates the Establishment Clause of the federal Constitution, regardless of whether the message of endorsement is intentional or unintentional and regardless of whether the message is conveyed in reality or only in the public perception.

Especially precious is the comment of the bill’s sponsor in response to the AG Opinion:

Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown and a lead sponsor of the measure, said he plans to move forward despite the legal opinion: “That’s his opinion. I’ve got a different one.”


So, did the AG Opinion give the members of the House pause and lead them to table this bill? Of course not. The House passed the bill earlier today, 55-38.

Also worth noting (from the Times-Free Press article): “Although Slatery’s legal opinion can’t prevent lawmakers from passing legislation, it means that the attorney general’s office would have to recuse itself from any litigation stemming from the law.”

This bill still might fail in the state Senate. News reports note that similar legislative proposals failed in Mississippi earlier this year and in Louisiana in 2014.

Image Source: Meme Generator.

Update (Friday, Apr. 17, 2015, 10:10 AM): the Senate has sent the bill back to the Senate Judiciary Committee, effectively killing it.

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