14 April 2016
Christianism in Tennessee
A Republican governor has vetoed a bill narrowly approved by the Tennessee legislature that would have designated the Christian Holy Bible as the official state book. Gov. Haslam is no liberal, but he and his attorney general recognize the obvious unconstitutional implications of this legislation. Haslam's challenge was to veto the bill without greatly offending his state's Christianists -- my word for those who believe that Christian morality is the unacknowledged foundation of American law, and that the Christian majority is entitled on democratic and moral principle to have the polity reflect their preferences and prejudices. It was necessary for Haslam to denounce perceived efforts to "drive religion out of the public square," and in addition to the obvious constitutional objections to such a bill he borrowed an idea from Teddy Roosevelt, arguing as Teddy did against putting "In God We Trust" on currency that putting a state seal of approval on the Bible actually trivializes it. Haslam's spin on the idea is that making the Bible the state book makes it equivalent to the raccoon, the state animal, and the tomato, the state fruit. He probably has to resort to such an argument because his fellow Republicans would reject the real argument, also offered, that the state-book designation comes too close for comfort to an establishment of religion. To them, it seems self-evident that the majority should be culturally dominant, that the U.S. should declare itself a Christian nation by affirming and enforcing their preferences. When Christians whine that they're losing their rights in this country, as they do so often now, they mean that some Americans won't allow them to do exactly this sort of thing. They whine the same way when anyone challenges their cultural prerogative to stigmatize and marginalize homosexuals. Haslam still has a "religious liberty" bill empowering homophobia on his desk, another result of such whining on the part of people who think doing business with homosexuals is sinful. He told interviewers last week that he hadn't yet made up his mind to sign it or not. He should recognize that both the "religious liberty" bill and the Bible bill express the same Christianist impulse. If he's capable of making a distinction between religion's real role in the public square and unconstitutional Christianism he shouldn't have to do any more thinking before vetoing the "religious liberty" bill. Unfortunately, Tennessee requires only a simple majority to override a gubernatorial veto. If Christianist Republicans override Haslam on either bill, the one he he did veto or the one he might, it might be seen as a vote of no confidence in the governor. In that case it will probably be up to American business, as it has been in other homophobic states, to cast a vote of no confidence in Tennessee.