Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam vetoed a controversial measure by lawmakers to make the Holy Bible the official state book.
Haslam was under pressure by civil libertarians and secular politicians to reject the motion. Upon vetoing the legislation, the governor cited a 2015 opinion by Attorney General Herbert Slatery that the bill would violate both state and federal constitutions.
"In addition to the constitutional issues with the bill, my personal feeling is that this bill trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text," Haslam wrote in a letter to Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Republican from Nashville.
"If we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn't be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance," the Republican governor continued. "If we are recognizing the Bible as a sacred text, then we are violating the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee by designating it as the official state book."
Tennessee would have been the first state to make the Bible its official book if Governor Haslam signed the bill into law. His decision to reject the legislation marks only his fourth in his five years as governor.
Haslam, who won re-election in 2014, faced mounting pressure from civil libertarian and non-theistic groups to stop the measure from becoming law.
Backers of the measure have emphasized the historical, religious and economic importance of the Bible for the state; the bill asserts "printing the Bible is a multimillion dollar industry for the state with many top Bible publishers headquartered in Nashville."
Had Haslam signed the bill, Tennessee would have become the first state in the nation to make the Holy Bible its official state book. The veto was just Haslam's fourth in his five years as governor. None of his other three vetoes were overturned.
Jerry Sexton, a Republican lawmaker who sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives, threw his support behind Southerland in a statement on Thursday.
"Sen. Southerland and I are prepared to move forward with a veto override and we plan to do exactly that," his spokesman said on his behalf.
Tennessee is by and large a religious state, but the measure has met considerable resistance from those who contend making the Bible the state's official book would amount to a government endorsement of Christianity. Despite rejecting the measure, Haslam was keen to talk up his religious credentials.
"I strongly disagree with those who are trying to drive religion out of the public square. All of us should and must bring our deepest beliefs to the places we are called, including governmental service," the governor added.
Religion - Christianity in particular - is a sensitive topic for American conservatives, especially in southern states like Tennessee. Considering this, Governor Haslam's veto was nothing if not a courageous move.