The Final Outcome of the 'Bible Bill'

This is a classic example of what can happen as a proposal goes through the legislative process and new opportunities present themselves.
SB4104 by *Herron and others.
Enacts the "Bible in School Act."
This bill authorizes the state board of education to approve a curriculum for an elective state-funded course of a nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible.
When this legislation, as originally written, began to move through the process it was vigorously opposed for a number of reasons, including the fact that it made reference to an unacceptable textbook, it ‘gave’ the State Board of Education the ‘authority’ the Board already had, and had the potential to undermine or destroy the Bible Courses successfully being taught all across the state.
Thankfully, legislators received a high volume of contacts validating these concerns. As the late US Senator Everett Dirksen said, “When they feel the heat they will see the light.” YOUR involvement makes a difference.
The majority of the Senate Education Committee members agreed with these concerns and made drastic changes in the language before voting the bill out of committee.
Speaking with some folks who had been working on this issue at the national level and on the local level, an idea was developed. The State Board of Education (appointed, not elected and thus not accountable to the voter) already had the authority to develop a Bible course. Should they decide to do that at some point in the future, they could go on to MANDATE that the newly developed course be the ONLY one that could be used by any school system, thereby eliminating all the excellent courses being taught now. However, this bill could be used as a vehicle to protect the courses presently in use regardless of what the Board did in the future. So we moved in that direction.
This proposed legislation was scheduled for the Senate floor Tuesday morning, May 7, and when it was brought up, the sponsor postponed it until the afternoon session. I was puzzled about that decision until I learned that Sen. Herron had requested and received an Attorney General’s opinion on the constitutionality of Amendment 1 that rewrote the bill and was adopted in Senate Education. The AG opined that the amendment “increases the likelihood that such a course could be subjected to a successful ‘as applied’ challenge” meaning that the schools might do something wrong in application of the statute.
It is interesting to note that eighteen counties are teaching some sort of Bible curriculum and only Hamilton County has been sued. That happened years and years ago and they won their case in Federal Court. So, that being the case and these courses being put in place without all the specific direction and guidelines without any problems, I think the concerns are way overblown.
After Sen. Herron completed his opening statement, on cue Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) brought up the AG’s opinion. Education Committee Chairman Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville disagreed that somehow this amendment encouraged courses be taught in an unconstitutional manner nor did she think that this amendment will somehow put us in a position of a constitutional challenge. She commented that if any local school system wanted to make sure that the course they were using was acceptable they could adopt the course used in Hamilton County.
Sen. Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) joined in the debate then ‘moved Amendment 1 to the table’, meaning that it would be removed from the bill.
When the vote was taken the ‘tabling motion’ failed 14 – 18. Sen. Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey and Sen. Mike Williams (I-Maynardville) joined all the Republicans.
Voting aye were: Berke, Finney L, Ford, Harper, Haynes, Henry, Herron, Jackson, Kilby, Kurita, Kyle, Marrero, Roller, Wilder -- 14.
Voting no were: Beavers, Black, Bunch, Burchett, Burks, Crowe, Finney R, Johnson, Ketron, McNally, Norris, Southerland, Stanley, Tracy, Watson, Williams, Woodson, Mr. Speaker Ramsey – 18
Additional discussion included Sen. Tommy Kilby (R-Wartburg) stating that citizen discussion is welcomed but he doesn’t want children to be indoctrinated in the school system. I am afraid that this is what may be leading to. If these groups want that, they are wrong. (Who knows where this idea originated!)
Sen. Dewayne Bunch (R-Cleveland) commented that we are trying to get to same place, the question is how…it is better to defer to the Constitution since interpretation changes.
Amendment 1 was adopted along party lines: 17-16.
Voting aye were: Beavers, Black, Bunch, Burchett, Crowe, Finney R, Johnson, Ketron, McNally, Norris, Southerland, Stanley, Tracy, Watson, Williams, Woodson, Mr. Speaker Ramsey -- 17
Voting no were: Berke, Burks, Finney L, Ford, Harper, Haynes, Henry, Herron, Jackson, Kilby, Kurita, Kyle, Marrero, Roller, Tate, Wilder -- 16.
(I say that because as you recall from earlier discussion, this bill is unnecessary since the State Board can develop this course of study without this bill and courses are already being adopted locally.)
This amendment provides statutory protection ALL the Bible courses being taught in the state as of this year. In addition, it permits local school systems to adopt any course presently being taught without going through an additional approval process. Adopted by a voice vote. [Note: This language was changed some in the final version of the bill.]
Another amendment was added (33-0) to clarify that any course adopted other than the one developed by the state board that it must be “in compliance with the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Tennessee.”
After the 40 minute debate, SB4104 passed 32-0-1.
Voting aye were: Beavers, Berke, Black, Bunch, Burchett, Burks, Crowe, Finney L, Finney R, Ford, Harper, Haynes, Henry, Herron, Jackson, Johnson, Ketron, Kilby, Kurita, Kyle, McNally, Norris, Roller, Southerland, Stanley, Tate, Tracy, Watson, Wilder, Williams, Woodson, Mr. Speaker Ramsey – 32
Senators present and not voting were: Marrero – 1 (This is interesting as she originally voted yes, but I suppose she went back and changed her ‘yes’ vote to a ‘pass’, which a senator can do.)
To view the Senate debate, go to:
Slide the ‘seek’ button (thin blue line under the picture) to 1:16.
HB4089 by *Maddox, and many others.
Some changes in the language were made in the House Education Committee to make the bill more palatable by removing some of the offending provisions and adding statutory protection for the Bible Classes presently being taught.
Before presenting the bill on the floor Rep. Maddox re-wrote it once again by combining the amendments that had come out of the committee
During the floor debate on May 13, a number of legislators asked about assuring the protection of present courses. Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) worried about schools having time to teach this with all the demands they face now, seeming to ignore that this is a ‘elective’.
Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis) adamantly opposed the legislation recalling that as a student in a Catholic school, she studied other religions and documents. She went so far as to say that we don’t have teachers with the proper academic background to teach in a non-biased manner and that she thought it was wrong to teach one particular point of view.
When the dust settled, it passed 93-3.
Voting aye were: Armstrong, Baird, Bass, Bell, Bibb, Bone, Borchert, Briley, Brooks H, Brooks K, Brown, Buck, Camper, Campfield, Casada, Cobb J, Coleman, Coley, Cooper, Crider, Curtiss, Dean, DeBerry J, DeBerry L, DuBois, Dunn, Eldridge, Favors, Ferguson, Fincher, Fitzhugh, Floyd, Ford, Fraley, Gilmore, Gresham, Hackworth, Hardaway, Harmon, Harrison, Harwell, Hawk, Hensley, Hill, Hood, Johnson C, Johnson P, Jones U, Kelsey, Litz, Lollar, Lundberg, Lynn, Maddox, Maggart, Matheny, Matlock, McCord, McCormick, McDaniel, McDonald, McManus, Miller, Montgomery, Moore, Mumpower, Niceley, Odom, Overbey, Pinion, Pitts, Rinks, Roach, Rowland, Sargent, Shaw, Shepard, Sontany, Strader, Swafford, Tidwell, Tindell, Todd, Towns, Turner M, Vaughn, Watson, West, Williams, Windle, Winningham, Yokley, Mr. Speaker Naifeh -- 93
Voting no were: Pruitt, Richardson, Turner L – 3
To view the House Debate, go to
Slide the ‘seek’ button (thin blue line under the picture) to 4:05:07
On Wednesday, May 14, it went back to Senate floor for them to concur in Amendment #4 which they did. On May 28th the Governor signed SB 4104 and it became Public Chapter 1037.
The absolute protections for the Bible Courses presently being taught and those that may be taught in the future, including the fact that whatever curriculum is finally devised by the State Board CANNOT be required in any way, shape, or form, is a great victory for religious and academic liberty.
“(e) Nothing in this section shall be construed as mandating that an LEA use the curriculum developed under subsection (a) for an academic study of the Bible or prohibiting an LEA from adopting its own curriculum for an academic study of the Bible; provided, that any academic study of the Bible so offered shall be approved as a special course according to the rules of the state board of education and in compliance with the Constitutions of the United States and the state of Tennessee.