Religion and law expert and Willamette University Professor of Law Steven Green was quoted in a Tennessean article that discussed potential legal hurdles Tennessee may face should a legislative bill designating the Bible as the state’s official book be signed into law.
The Tennessean reports that on April 5, Tennessee state senators narrowly approved a measure that would add the Bible to the state’s official symbols list, sending it to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk. Haslam, who previously called the measure "disrespectful," has until April 19 to make a veto decision. Lawmakers need only a simple majority to overturn a veto. If Haslam does nothing, the Bible will become the official state book.
In the article, Professor Green said the state would be showing a preference for a particular religion if the Bible becomes the state book, which calls into question what is prohibited by the state’s constitution and the federal establishment clause. "It also indicates endorsement of religion," said Green.
But, according to the Tennessean, Green thinks the measure needs to be applied in some fashion, such as using the Bible in public schools, displaying a placard of it in a government building, putting it on letterhead or on the side of a police vehicle. "Generally, a plaintiff would need to encounter the state's promotion of the Bible before there could be a lawsuit. At least that situation would be a more successful suit," Green was quoted as saying. Simply knowing the Bible has been made the official book or encountering news reports about it typically wouldn't provide sufficient enough legal standing—demonstration of harm caused by the law—to bring a suit in federal court, he said.
Green, the author of Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding, said in the article that he thinks people want to emphasize the Bible or the Ten Commandments because it sends a message about the dominance of Christianity within the culture, as a way to push back on what they see as encroaching secularism.
"Religion is such an easily available trump card," Green said. "It becomes a proxy for so many other things and to a degree much of this area of the law is symbolic."
Read the full article on tennessean.com.
About Steven K. Green
Steven K. Green is the Fred H. Paulus Professor of Law and director of the Center for Religion, Law & Democracy at Willamette University College of Law, where he teaches courses in constitutional law, the First Amendment, legal history, jurisprudence, and criminal law. Green has significant legislative experience, having testified before Congress and several state legislatures. He helped draft federal and state laws affecting religious liberty interests, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993), the Religious Land-Use and Institutionalized Persons Protection Act (2000), and the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act (2009). He is a widely sought speaker at national conferences and a prolific author whose writings have been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts. Green’s most recent book is Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding (Oxford University Press, 2015).
About Willamette University College of Law
Opened in 1883, Willamette University College of Law is the first law school in the Pacific Northwest. The college has a long tradition at the forefront of legal education and is committed to the advancement of knowledge through excellent teaching, scholarship, mentoring and experience. Leading faculty, thriving externship and clinical law programs, ample practical skills courses, and a proactive career placement office prepare Willamette law students for today's legal job market. According to statistics compiled by the American Bar Association, Willamette ranks first in the Pacific Northwest for job placement for full-time, long-term, JD-preferred/JD-required jobs for the class of 2014 and first in Oregon for the classes of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Located across the street from the state capitol complex and the Oregon Supreme Court in downtown Salem, the college specializes in law and government, law and business, and dispute resolution.