Legislation that would make the Holy Bible the official state book of Louisiana cleared the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs with a vote of 8-5 Thursday afternoon. It will now head to the full House of Representatives for consideration.
Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, originally filed a bill to declare a specific copy of the Bible, found in the Louisiana State Museum system, the official state book. But by the time he presented the proposal to the committee, he changed language in his legislation to make the generic King James version of the Bible, a text used worldwide, the official state book.
Um, the generic King James version? Is there a non-generic King James version?
But peel back the layers, and this story just keeps getting more Onion-y:
Carmody said his intention was not to mingle religion with government functions. "This is not about establishing an official religion," he said.
Still, Legislators became concerned that the proposal wasn't broad enough and did not reflect the breadth of Bibles used by religious communities. In particular, some lawmakers worried that singling out the King James version of the Bible would not properly reflect the culture of Louisiana. The Catholic Church, for example, does not use the King James text.
"Let's make this more inclusive of other Christian faiths, more than just the ones that use the King James version," said Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro.
Read on, and see if the quote below makes your jaw drop like it did mine:
A few committee members fought the bill vehemently, saying the legislation was likely to upset some citizens who are not Christian and open the state up to legal challenges.
"I am so bothered by this bill that I just called my pastor. My pastor just said that he thinks we are going to have a legal problem," said Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, who voted against the legislation.
Apparently, Bishop's mother and barber were unavailable to weigh in on the legality.
Seriously, did anyone — if not the lawmaker, perhaps the newspaper itself — consider contacting a constitutional expert with presumably more credentials than, say, a state representative's pastor to discuss this proposal?
Apparently not (although the Times-Picayune does note that an ACLU official has concerns about the bill).
In fairness to Bishop, it appears that he actually said more than the New Orleans paper quoted. In fact, he comes across as much more intelligent in a report by The Advocate, a rival state newspaper:
Louisiana legislators advanced a bill Thursday that would make the Holy Bible the official Louisiana state book, despite concerns the move could prompt litigation.
“You cannot separate Christianity from the Bible,” said state Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, a lawyer and the son of a preacher. “If you adopt the Bible as the official state book, you also adopt Christianity as the state religion ... We are going to open ourselves up to a lawsuit.”
Alas, neither the Times-Picayune and The Advocate bothers to explore — via experts and legal precedents — the constitutionality of the legislation. It's as if legislative coverage must be produced inside a bubble that fails to consider the real world. And real experts.