A plan to make the Bible the official state book in Tennessee derailed Thursday when the Republican-controlled Senate sent the measure back to a committee, effectively killing it this year.
The bill has divided Republicans in conservative Tennessee. Some say the Bible is far too sacred to be deemed an "official state book." Conversely, others believe it's an integral part of the state's history.
Tennessee's attorney general, Herbert Slatery, warned in a legal opinion earlier this week that the bill would violate separation of church and state provisions of both the federal and state constitutions. Similar worries about proposals in Mississippi and Louisiana caused lawmakers there to drop measures in recent years.
Still, the GOP-controlled Tennessee House approved the bill 55-38 on Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, one of the state's most powerful legislators, said Thursday the constitutional concerns were the main reason for sending the bill back to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which could take up the bill next year.
"We debated it, but never talked about the legal issues," he said. "The attorney general's opinion raises legal issues that were not discussed."
Tennessee's official state symbols include the tomato as the state fruit, the tulip poplar as the state tree, the Tennessee cave salamander as the state amphibian and the square dance as the state folk dance. The state also has several state songs such as "Tennessee Waltz" and "Rocky Top." All are listed in the Tennessee Blue Book, considered the definitive almanac of Tennessee state government.
Opponents of the legislation raised concerns about putting the Bible on par with such innocuous state symbols.