A proposed bill in the West Virginia to anoint the bible as the "official state book" is unconstitutional, charges the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
A few state legislators have recently introduced House Bill 2568, which would designate "The Holy Bible" as the "official state book of West Virginia." FFRF calls this proposal an "outrageous" attempt by zealous legislators to force Christianity upon all West Virginians, regardless of their religious — or nonreligious — preferences.
The proposed bill is both illegal and fiscally irresponsible, as it would almost certainly result in a preventable lawsuit that would cost state taxpayers dearly. A virtually identical bill that the Tennessee Legislature approved not long ago (wisely vetoed by the governor) was declared by the state's attorney general to violate both the federal and state constitutions. And the General Assembly's Fiscal Review Committee had estimated that the inevitable lawsuit could have cost Tennessee more than $100,000.
The "good book," as FFRF notes, is a misnomer, as the bible is rife with violence, misogyny, homophobia, genocide, slavery and intolerance of nonbelievers. The state that has been home to authors such as Pearl S. Buck, Booker T. Washington and Henry Louis Gates Jr. should have no trouble choosing a more appropriate state book that creates no First Amendment conflicts.
If the West Virginia bill passes, the Legislature invites a lawsuit not unlike the one filed earlier this year by the Freedom From Religion Foundation against bible classes in Mercer County in the state. In its federal suit, FFRF notes that it is not the government's role to promote one religious book over others or religion generally over nonreligion. Encouraging citizens to read and learn from the bible is not a goal to be pursued by those holding secular government positions.
Religious faith is a matter for private conscience, not state endorsement. In his decision upholding the Freedom From Religion Foundation's challenge of Christian indoctrination in Rhea County public schools in Tennessee, Chief U.S. District Judge R. Allan Edgar of Chattanooga noted: "A state-created orthodoxy puts at grave risk freedom of belief and conscience, which is the sole assurance that religious faith is real, not imposed."
"This level of zealotry among the state legislators sponsoring this bill is shameful," says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "They were elected to represent all West Virginians, not just those in the religious majority. An ever-growing portion of the population (almost one-fourth of Americans) identifies as nonreligious. Legislators who take an oath of office to uphold the U.S. Constitution in all its godlessness apparently have never bothered to examine it."
The West Virginia Statehouse needs to stop attempting to foist Christianity upon the residents of the state and start working to address their real needs.