Southern lawmakers embracing a more non-secular state

The Tennessee Senate is moving along a bill that would make the Bible the official book of Tennessee.

It now needs only the signature of the state’s governor to become law.

“The very founding of our nation — the very form of government that we have today — was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture,” Sen. Kerry Roberts said, according to the Tennessean newspaper

“This book has done more to bring us to where we are today than any other book in the history of mankind,” he added.

Some opponents of the bill talked less about the constitutional problems and more about the symbolizing of equating the book with raccoons (official state wild animal), turtles (official state reptile), milk (official state beverage) and square dancers (official dance).

Gov. Bill Haslam has questioned the constitutionality of the bill, but it’s another indication how deeply religion is extending into the nation’s politics.

Today, for example, the governor of Mississippi signed a bill allowing discrimination if it’s done for religious reasons.

“This bill does not create one action against any class or group of people. It doesn’t create a new action or a new defense of an action against those people,” Gov. Phil Bryant said after signing the legislation.

But the Clarion-Ledger newspaper notes that people can’t seem to agree on what the bill does, which is usually not a good sign when it comes to good governing.

Bryant also denied claims by opponents that the bill would allow restaurants or governments to deny normal services to gay or lesbian people unless it was in the performing of a wedding ceremony. He cited a restaurant as an example, saying that a restaurant would not be allowed to deny serving a gay patron but could deny allowing a wedding to take place in the restaurant.

However, the bill says people can deny services or goods for the “celebration or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” which would include pre-ceremony celebrations, post-wedding celebrations, anniversary celebrations and other related celebrations, opponents argue.

Bryant said he believes many arguments against the bill were filled with misinformation.

“What I’ve seen in my business, when people in the secular community want to attack a bill, and they give the worst possible examples of what will happen,” he said.

At least 10 states have passed or considered some version of the bill in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage, according to Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University and the author of Democracy in Black. He wrote an essay today on

But this bill isn’t about anti-discrimination. The reasoning is all too familiar. We see it in the obsession about the sexual lives of black and poor people informing HB 180 in 1964. This isn’t about religious freedom, either. It is bigotry draped in the garb of religion. Plain and simple. And it should be fought with all of our political and moral energy.

It would be too easy to say that this bill is just another example of the backwardness of the state of Mississippi—of the ugliness of the south generally. But Mississippi is a metaphor for America. It is and has always been that. The state simply exaggerates tendencies found elsewhere in the country.

“No person should be punished by the government with crippling fines, or face disqualification for simply believing what President Obama believed just a few years ago, that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” the Family Research Council countered in a statement.