Bible as State Book bill withdrawn

State Rep. Thomas Carmody Jr. pulled from consideration Monday evening a proposal to make the Holy Bible the official state book.

Carmody, R-Shreveport, told the Louisiana House he did not want the legislation to be a distraction from other important issues warranting legislators’ attention. The Legislature hasn’t tackled the state budget, resolved the controversy over Common Core or completed legislation addressing lawsuits over the cause of wetlands loss.

In a short speech, Carmody said House Bill 503, which was pending a vote by the full House, “causes some constitutional problems.” He “returned the bill to the calendar” and said it would sit there until the session ends June 2.

As Carmody returned to his desk, several legislators made a bee-line over to thank him.

Legislators still can focus on naming the mayhaw fruit tree as the official state fruit tree.

That proposal — Senate Bill 206 — has made it through the state Senate and is awaiting a House committee hearing.

Louisiana already has a number of official state symbols.

The brown pelican is the state bird. The Catahoula is the state dog. The official state flag can be found on pages 146 and 147 of “The Flag Book of the United States” by Whitney Smith.

Carmody’s HB503 had cleared a Louisiana House committee even as opponents predicted it would provoke a lawsuit.

“If you adopt the Bible as the official state book, you also adopt Christianity as the state religion,” argued state Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, a lawyer and preacher’s son. Establishing a state religion is specifically prohibited in the U.S. Constitution.

Carmody said the Holy Bible was appropriate for a state with strong religious ties.

The legislation also “recognized and acknowledged” the state motto as found in the state pledge of allegiance: “A state, under God, united in purpose and ideals, confident that justice shall prevail for all of those abiding here.”

Making the Bible the official state book quickly became the subject of dozens of editorials, commentaries, national news stories and late-night comics’ fodder. The House Municipal Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee voted 8-5 for the measure earlier this month.

Carmody told his House colleagues that the measure, House Bill 503, started out on behalf of a constituent who wanted a specific Holy Bible named as the official state book.

The book suggested was the Holy Bible, published by Johannes Prevel, which is the oldest edition of the Holy Bible in the Louisiana State Museum system. The idea was for it to be used on special occasions, such officials’ swearing in ceremonies.

A totally different version of the bill developed during lengthy committee debate, changing the one specific Bible to encompass much more.

Representatives said the Bible that Carmody chose was a King James version. That version of the Bible, which is often used by Protestants, doesn’t include parts familiar to other denominations, such as Catholic or Orthodox churches. The committee amended HB503.

But the version still didn’t suit some committee members who said it was offensive because it did not recognize the religions of all Louisiana residents. They said all books of faith should be swept in including the Torah and Quran.

Carmody said he had discussed the revamped bill with the constituent who had sought the state book legislation before he pulled the plug on it.

He said he took the step so legislators can “focus on things more important.”