The governor of Tennessee has vetoed legislation that would have made the Bible the state’s official book, saying it would violate the US Constitution, but lawmakers vowed to hold a vote to overrule his decision.
In a letter notifying top state legislators of his intent to veto the legislation, Governor Bill Haslam, himself a Christian, said the proposal violated religious freedoms enshrined in both the US Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.
“My personal feeling is that this bill trivialises the Bible, which I believe is sacred text,” Haslam, a Republican, wrote.
The veto comes a week after the state senate voted to make the Bible the state’s official book. That vote followed the state house’s approval last year.
Haslam, who won re-election in 2014, faced mounting pressure from civil libertarian and non-theistic groups to stop the measure from becoming law.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, praised the decision, saying elected officials should not “use their official positions to favour one religious belief over another”.
Had Haslam signed the bill, Tennessee would have become the first US state to designate the Bible as its official state book.
The lawmakers who sponsored the measure vowed to hold a vote that would overrule Haslam’s veto. A simple majority in each legislative chamber would overrule his decision.
“According to polling, 62 per cent of all Tennesseans favour making the Holy Bible the state book in order to recognise its significance from a historical, economic and cultural standpoint,” the house sponsor, Representative Jerry Sexton, said.