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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A bid to override Gov. Bill Haslam's veto of a bill to make Tennessee the first state to designate the Bible as its official book failed in the state House on Wednesday.
Forty-three members voted to re-pass the bill, falling well short of the 50-vote threshold to turn back to the veto.
The Republican governor last week turned back the bill over constitutional concerns and because of concerns the measure "trivializes" what he considers a sacred text.
Sponsors argued that the measure seeks to honor the economic and historical impact of the Bible in Tennessee history, rather than a state endorsement of religion.
"It doesn't force anyone to read it, it doesn't force anyone to buy it, it doesn't anyone to believe it," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jerry Sexton, a former Baptist minister. "It's simply symbolic."
But opponents said it diminishes the significance of the Bible to place it alongside other state symbols. Earlier in the session, the Legislature approved a resolution to add the .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle to the state's official symbols, like the Tennessee cave salamander, the eastern box turtle and the channel catfish — plus nine state songs, including the moonshine-themed "Rocky Top."
Lawmakers passed the bill despite a warning by the state's attorney general that it would violate both the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions, the latter of which states that "no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship."
Haslam said in his veto message that elected officials' "deepest beliefs" should inform their decisions.
"Men and women motivated by faith have every right and obligation to bring their belief and commitment to the public debate," he said. "However, that is very different from the governmental establishment of religion that our founders warned against and our constitution prohibits."