Bibles in the classroom?

Published 11:23 pm Wednesday, April 13, 2016

By the time you read this, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, may have already signed the bill making the Bible “the state book” and triggered a string of events with Constitutional consequences.

Schools of thought include using this law to bring the Bible back into classrooms, where teachers would introduce it to their students much in the same way they do the state insect.

One problem with this maneuver is that the state of Tennessee has four state insects: the ladybug, the firefly, the honeybee and the zebra swallowtail butterfly.

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This leaves open the parallel argument for even more state books, such as the Koran, the Torah and the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, to be most appropriately displayed for sale at the Memphis pyramid.

Another school of supporting thought is that the Bible holds a unique position as the historical document most cited by the Founding Fathers as inspiring the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Yes it does, including the fight of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to wrench the Church of England from its grip on the State of Virginia.

Authored by Jefferson, Madison pressed the Virginia Assembly to pass the bill that said, “No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever.”

Jefferson’s original bill failed. A few years later, there was such dissent against a House resolution to introduce “a moderate tax or contribution, annually,” to benefit all Christian sects that Madison was able to push through Jefferson’s “Virginia statute for religious freedom.”

Imagine what would happen if some members of Tennessee’s State House decide a couple of years from now that it would be a good idea to provide tax money to purchase Bibles for public schools.

Being a Christian myself, it doesn’t trouble me in the least to see Bibles in public places. I would honestly be more than somewhat disconcerted if kids were reciting the Koran in school, so I believe I can empathize with Baha’i, Jews, Hindus, Taoists, Muslims and Sikhs if their kids were compelled to study the Bible.

Governor Haslam has expressed concerns about the bill, as has his Republican Lt. Governor, Ron Ramsey, who last year said, “We don’t need to put the Bible beside salamanders, tulip poplars and ‘Rocky Top’ in the Tennessee Blue Book to appreciate its importance to our state.”

Would assigning the Bible to a list of state symbols trivialize the Bible?

The Word of God itself would not itself be trivialized; the act of lumping it into such a list would be the act of men and women choosing to ascribe a sentiment of trivia to the Bible.

At this point, you might be thinking that the Tennessee General Assembly is ignorant of the Establishment Clause.

Don’t even start with “separation of Church and State.” That’s an abominable piece of judicial malfeasance on the part of a Supreme Court overreaching on the basis of a letter from Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists explaining that the first amendment already provided protection from a national religion.

The phrase has become nonintellectual dogma.

Here’s how this issue could trigger Constitutional consequence.

The Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution declares “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

The Supreme Court has often “incorporated” the Fourteenth Amendment to carry this religious and other federal protections over to the states: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

One of the bill’s supporters in the state senate, Republican Frank Niceley, rejected the concept that the bill is unconstitutional, saying, “The only way we can truly know if this is, indeed, unconstitutional is to pass it, let somebody sue and it goes to the Supreme Court to decide, and we all would know once and for all if it’s constitutional.”

Should such a lawsuit occur, the decision could reverse – or cement – years of the Supreme Court “incorporating” the federal nature of the Constitution into the business of the states.

It might all just depend on the next Supreme Court nominee. As if the upcoming election weren’t important enough already.

Rick Jensen is Delaware’s award-winning conservative talk show host on WDEL.