By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republicans in the Legislature have their first opportunity to override one of Gov. Bill Haslam’s vetoes this week when they seek to re-pass a bill to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee.
Haslam vetoed the bill last week on the basis that it violates prohibitions on government endorsement of religion in both the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions and because he believes it “trivializes” the Bible.
Supporters of the Bible bill are expected to formally announce their plans to override the veto on the House floor on Monday evening, which legislative leaders say sets up a vote on Wednesday.
Haslam’s previous three vetoes were made after the General Assembly had adjourned for year.
Supporters say that the measure seeks to honor the historical and economic impact of the Bible in Tennessee history, but Haslam argues that that is just a fig leaf for the real purpose.
“The Holy Scripture is what it is, or it’s not,” Haslam said. “But I don’t think you should pretend it’s one thing so you can honor it probably for another reason.”
The bill received 55 votes in the 99-member House and 19 votes in the 33-member Senate. As it only takes a majority in both chambers to override a veto, the Haslam administration needs to turn six House votes and three in the Senate for the veto to stand.
The governor said he’s heard from lawmakers who regretted their original vote for the bill.
“I’ve had several members say, ‘You know I voted for it, and I think if I had a chance to do it again, I would vote differently,'” Haslam said. “But I certainly don’t want to project what people’s votes will be.”
Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville, who opposes the bill, said she expects the Haslam’s veto letter to sway lawmakers.
“My members have a tremendous amount of respect for Gov. Haslam, and I thought the letter he wrote was well thought out,” she said. “So we’ll see.”
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville are other prominent Republicans who oppose the bill.
“I’m not sure the votes would be there the second time around,” Ramsey said after the Senate passed the bill earlier this month. “It will be interesting to see.”
Norris took the unusual step of having formal remarks written into the legislative record after the Bible bill was adopted by the upper chamber to denounce the move as “sacrilegious.”
“Convincing others that the Holy Bible is not sacred but, rather, secular, that it’s a symbol of history rather than religion, that it doesn’t have to be read or believed, is the stuff of Satan — not Holy Scripture,” he said.