(ABC News)–The Bible could soon join the Eastern box turtle, the square dance and the Smithville Jamboree as official symbols of the state of Tennessee.
The Tennessee State Senate is voting this afternoon on whether to designate the religious text as the official book of the Volunteer State. The proposal has set off a colorful debate about the separation of church and state that has invoked names like George Washington, the mullahs of Tehran, and Satan.
Supporters of the bill insist it is to highlight the Bible’s historical importance, not its religious meaning.
State Senator Kerry Roberts (R) mentioned the nation’s founding father as he explained his support to The Tennessean. “He used the Bible for his swearing in.”
But the State Senate’s majority leader, Mark Norris (R), said the bill would actually demean the Bible, an act that would get a better response from the gates of Hell than from the man upstairs.
“All I know is that I hear Satan snickering,” Norris said in 2015, when a previous version of the Bible bill failed. “He loves this kind of mischief. You just dumb the good book down far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol, and you’re on your way to where he wants you.”
The Tennessean’s editorial board wrote that by passing the bill, Tennessee would follow the way of Middle Eastern theocracies.
“This is Tennessee, not Tehran,” the editorial board wrote. “We are governed by the people, not the religious authorities.”
Tennessee is not the first state to try to designate the Bible as the official state book. A Louisiana lawmaker tried to introduce similar legislation in 2014 in his state, but pulled the bill because it had become a “distraction.”
Alabama has an official state Bible – but it’s not the state’s official book – it just happens to be the Bible upon which Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the president of the Confederate States, which has been used by every governor since.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam did not immediately return ABC News’ request for comment. Haslam has not publicly declared whether or not he will veto the bill.