There's faith-related news, apparently, in West Virginia, but the local media there are not paying too much attention.
On Monday, Feb. 20 (don't ask me why the state legislature was meeting on Presidents' Day, but apparently they did), State Delegate Ken Hicks (D-Wayne) introduced a measure to amend the state code with a single sentence: "The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book of West Virginia."
That's, um, news, rather interesting church-state news. Right?
Well, Hicks's measure did grab the attention of the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, so that's a start:
"I think a lot of the biblical principles are the same principles that the state was founded on," Hicks said. "The Bible is a book that's been around for thousands of years. A lot of principles from the Bible are what modern-day and contemporary law is based on."
There currently is no official state book for West Virginia.
Hicks said he thought the state could have multiple official books, not limiting it to just the Bible. When asked about concerns as to whether the proposal would indicate an official endorsement of one religion over others by the state, Hicks said he hoped that people who were concerned would contact their legislators to let their feelings be known.
The Herald-Dispatch account -- noting the lawmaker says he is "a practicing Christian" -- quotes Hicks as saying the bill isn't designed to compel Bible reading. Yes, a bit more specificity would have been nice when dealing with his church tradition.
The measure is co-sponsored by seven other delegates, two Democrats and five Republicans. None of the other sponsors are quoted nor are their religious affiliations, if any, disclosed. Talking to the Democrats would have been a nice touch.
Also telling, and also helpful, is this caveat, at the end of the piece:
In April 2016, Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible that state's official book after the GOP-majority General Assembly approved the measure. Similar measures failed to pass in the Louisiana State Legislature in 2014 and in the Mississippi Legislature in 2015.
A reader might then ask, what's the story here?
It's a bill, it may or may not pass, and similar measures have been vetoed or died aborning in each of the last three years elsewhere. Pretty close to a toss-up.
My journalistic question, however, is whether the Herald-Dispatch reporter (or their editor) thought to get a comment from, oh, I don't know, a preacher or two in the state. Gallup says West Virginia ranks "average" among the states for having a "very religious" populace, so surely there must be a few voices available.
There are also faiths nearby that don't embrace the Bible, per se, such as the massive Hare Krishna instllation at New Vrindaban, where there might be someone willing to make a comment.
Also, where is the ACLU of West Virginia? Wouldn't they have something to say about this?
Turns out they did, but not to the Herald-Dispatch. Instead, they spoke with ABC affiliate WCHS-TV in Charleston:
Eli Baumwell, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said if passed, this bill would contradict separation of church and state.
"America is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world," Baumwell said. "We actually have some of the most faithful people in the world. It's particularly because we have that freedom, so everyone can find that religion that speaks to them that is that truth, and they're able to do that because we don’t have government that's endorsing one religion over another."
Perhaps most puzzling, though, is the silence of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, published in the state's largest city and the state capital. I've searched, and there's nary a word about the 2017 measure designated HB 2568.
It seems to me there's room for media in the Mountain State to dig a little deeper, especially if the bill appears to have any chance of passage. You know, make a few calls, ask a few questions. #Journalism