Arkansas Society of Freethinkers (ASF) will oppose any efforts to make the Christian Bible the official book of Arkansas, ASF President Anne Orsi told Talk Business & Politics.
A resolution was passed without opposition in the Arkansas House two weeks ago that made the Bible the state’s official book. The resolution isn’t legally binding, but Orsi said the move is a clear violation of the separation between church and state.
“It blatantly violates the First Amendment,” Orsi said. “I don’t think it furthers anything about Arkansas … it’s a divisive thing. It doesn’t pull Arkansans together … there are many people in this state that have been hurt by religion, especially Christianity.”
ASF was formed as a non-profit organization in 1996. Its primary goal is to maintain the separation of church and state, Orsi said.
Rep. Dwight Tosh, R-Jonesboro, introduced the resolution on the House floor. He said he thinks most Arkansans believe in the Christian Bible, and it’s a “book of truth.”
“This book represents what we represent … the truth,” he said. “Our society is founded on Christian principles and the Bible played a major part.”
The resolution wasn’t filed jointly, meaning the Senate will not consider the resolution. Tosh said he may bring it up at the next session to allow senators to vote on it. Tosh considered filing it as a bill that would have made the Bible the state’s official book, but he thought there would be too many legal challenges. It received broad support from both parties. Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, told Talk Business & Politics the resolution was not legally binding and many in the state read and enjoy the Bible.
Arkansas doesn’t have an official book. Tennessee attempted to adopt a law designating the Bible as the state’s official book in 2016. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the legislation saying at the time the book is a “sacred text,” and it doesn’t need to be trivialized by a designation. West Virginia lawmakers are considering a bill to make the Bible the official book in their state. There have been similar efforts in states such as Mississippi, Louisiana among others. Efforts in those states have been unsuccessful.
There are no states with official books, according to research done by Talk Business & Politics. Several states have interesting official symbols. Hawaii has an official state microbe, many states, including Arkansas recognize milk as an official state beverage, and New Mexico has an official state amphibian, the spadefoot toad.
States have promoted symbols since 1893, when each state designated an official state flower. Legal scholars have debated in recent years if the adoption of any religious text violates the separation of church and state since it’s only a symbolic gesture. Orsi said it’s inappropriate for any governmental body to promote any religion.
If there are further attempts to promote the Bible as the state book, ASF will petition legislators to oppose it. They might organize rallies at the capitol, and find other ways to fight this violation of the First Amendment, she said. If something was passed her group might even consider legal action, Orsi said.
Belief in the Bible has undermined society in many ways, Orsi said. There are many Christians who don’t believe in science, such as climate change, because they have perverse interpretations of when the Earth was created. The Earth is billions of years old, and climate change is real and fueled by human activities, she said.