The Bible: (Officially) not Louisiana’s state book


wade

Life is replete with disappointment, and I received another dose when I logged onto my computer to find out the status of House Bill 503 in the 2014 Louisiana legislative session. Representative Thomas Carmody, a Shreveport Republican, filed HB 503 which would have made a particular copy of the King James Bible, the oldest edition in the Louisiana State Museum System, the “official state book.” The Times Picayune reported late Monday night that Carmody “scrapped his proposal” because “the bill had become a distraction.”

The Time’s Picayune also reported that “Carmody always maintained that he was not taking steps to establish a state religion, but rather to educate people.”

I am saddened by the news the he has given up on educating me. I suspect Representative Carmody would find me in need of instruction.

For the record, I am not a Christian. As I understand the appellation, it denotes one who professes to follow the religion of Jesus Christ, especially, affirming his divinity. I read an “Authorized King James Version” of the Bible recently, and I am less a Christian now than I’ve ever been. (As I understand it there are numerous versions of the Good Book all purporting to be the Word of God. It seems like there could be only one).

I require more credible evidence than second, third or fourth hand accounts written (in Greek, for the most part if we’re talking about the New Testament, and translated many times) to convince me that this scribbling is the Word of God. In fact, once it is translated, I don’t see how it could retain the authority of the original.

For those who counter that the Bible is “divinely inspired,” I would suggest that an editor should have been “divinely” provided since much of the text is all but unreadable. 75% of the text could be excised without losing any pertinent idea.

I have, in fact, read the Bible, in its various forms, a total of five times in my life. I spent over a year at LSU in comparative religious study, from Anglican teachings to Zoroastrianism, and was left unimpressed and unconverted. Some eastern philosophy resonated, and I find The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths helpful in coping with my daily struggles, but that is all.

Why the sadness?

Well, I was very much looking forward to the floor debate over which version of the Bible was most-deserving of the designation, “Louisiana’s official state book,” which I anticipated would be very entertaining. Representative Carmody called HB 503 merely “a distraction,” and it certainly was. I would call it unconstitutional and a betrayal of his sworn oath as an elected representative of Louisiana which states:

“I ___________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the constitution and laws of the United States and the constitution and laws of this state and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as (Title) according to the best of my ability, so help me God.”

And, yes, I do find the final clause offensive, unnecessary, and think it should be deleted.

Let’s examine the genesis of HB 503. A constituent of Representative Carmody named Randy Dill came up with the idea in 1988 according to The Huffington Post but could never find a lawmaker to back his proposal.

“The Bible was their main inspiration along with our forefathers-Washington and all of them,” Dill is quoted by The Huffington Post. “They looked to it for inspiration for our country. They called on God to help us.”

Dill and Carmody point to the State of Alabama’s adoption of the Bible as its state book as authority. (As for me, give back Nick Saban and call it a day. No disrespect intended to Les Miles).

The bill went into committee which, by an 8-5 vote, amended HB 503 to propose “the Holy Bible” as the official state book.

“Let’s make it more inclusive of other Christian faiths, more than just ones that use the King James version,” Representative Stephen Ortego, a Carencro Democrat, offered completely ignoring Louisiana’s Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Taoists, Shinto, Mormons…and non-believers, of course.

Ortego was one of the eight legislators who voted for the amendment as was Ascension’s own, Johnny Berthelot. Ortego’s Catholic Bible contains books that aren’t in the version authorized by the English monarch, King James.

Representative Wesley Bishop, a New Orleans Democrat, was one of the five who voted against.

“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,” he said.

On the off-chance that you are unaware, the First Amendment to the US Constitution reads, in part:

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The prohibitions of the First Amendment apply to state action through the Incorporation Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which the State of Louisiana ratified as a condition of rejoining the Union after the Civil War. The Fourteenth Amendment says:

“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”

The Establishment Clause was specifically incorporated against the states by the US Supreme Court in Everson v. Board of Education in 1947 wherein Justice Hugo Black (who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and rabidly anti-Catholic as it happens) wrote:

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another…In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and state.’”

If additional legal authority is needed, Louisiana’s own constitution provides it at Article I, Section 8 which states:

“No law shall be enacted respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Back to Mr. Dill who started all this. What about his claim that “our forefathers-Washington and all of them” called upon the Bible for inspiration? I notice that he offers no authority for his position. I decided to perform my own research into the thoughts of our Founding Fathers and here’s what I found.

Thomas Paine, without whose literary influence “the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain,” wrote in The Age of Reason:

“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

James Madison, the architect of the US Constitution if there was one, addressed the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia with regard to 15 centuries of Christianity in 1785:

“What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”

“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind, and unfits it for every noble enterprise,” he wrote William Bradford in 1774.

Benjamin Franklin wrote a month before his death:

“As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of Morals and his Religion…has received various corrupting Changes, and I have some doubts as to his Divinity; tho’ it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble.”

George Washington was loathe to speak or write publicly about religion but the Treaty of Peace and Friendship that ended the Barbary War, was drafted during his administration (it was ratified during John Adams presidency) and contained Article 11 which stated:

“The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

Thomas Jefferson, who coined the phrase “separation of church and state,” was attacked as “a howling atheist” by the Federalist Party during the Presidential election of 1800.

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others,” he said. “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Our nation’s founding document contains a single reference to a supreme being and that is “In the Year of our Lord” 1787 to designate the year of the Constitution’s adoption.

I invite Carmody, Dill or anyone else to argue for the proposition that these United States were founded upon Christian religious principles.

Now, hopefully, Louisiana’s legislators will put away such distractions and generate something of benefit to the citizens of this state.


Comments

  1. Grady Noland says:

    I feel I must respond to the comments you have written. First, you state that you have studied comparative religion at LSU but can’t understand how there are various versions of the Bible? This is surprising to me. You acknowledge that it was written, in part, in Greek. Some was written in Hebrew as well. To go from one language to another requires translation. No two translators will use exactly the same words and phrases. Some things are interpretive based on cultural differences; for example, in the original language what we interpret as “heart” as the seat of emotion was written as “kidney,” which was that culture’s related expression; a literal interpretation would make the meaning unclear, so most translators use the expression we use today. Other passages may be translation word for word or thought for thought–however the translators feel best conveys the message. Language changes; even the English language. The “authorized” or King James Version was written in 1611, over 400 years ago. During that time, English has evolved; thus, newer translations have become necessary (at least in many Christians’ understanding). Despite various versions, however, the overriding message is the same from one version to another. The language differences among well-respected don’t change the meaning.

    I am a Christian and do believe this Book to be divinely inspired. I am sorry that you do not. But that is your prerogative. Regarding this bill, I don’t see where it would’ve accomplished much. People, like me and you, will see the Bible as inspired or not, despite any law enacted. That being said, however, this proposed bill hardly rises to the level of the establishment of religion. The Bible is the best selling book of all times. At least one version, and often more, can be found yearly on the best sellers list. It is a source of literature and of history (though you seem to think its history to be dubious, despite verification of most events by outside sources). Many books over time and in various genres make allusions to people, events, and settings in the Bible. Much of Louisiana’s culture–be it Anglo-Saxon, African-American, or Cajun French–has direct connections to the Bible (the King Cake, various holidays and festival celebrations, etc.). Therefore, it has non-religious as well as religious meaning to people throughout the US and Louisiana. As such, there is merit in the proposal, and that doesn’t make it an attempt to establish any religion as part of the state government.

    Regarding the Founding Fathers and their views of the Bible, I think if you looked closely, you could find at least as many supporting the Bible, religion in general, Christianity in particular, and “Divine Providence” (taken from the Declaration of Independence) as you can find in opposition. Certainly, the Founders were men whose beliefs and perspectives changed over time and who, as political beings, no doubt shaded their remarks to fit the occasion in which they were speaking. As to getting on with the more important matters of the state, I’m for that. There are always bills–the official this or that–which cause legislators to lose sight of their appointed tasks. This certainly won’t be the last.

    I personally hope that you will give the Bible another try. Maybe join a Bible study group that takes a systematic approach to understanding the scriptures. I know of no other book that has stood the test of time, no other text which has accurately predicted so many events, and no other source of comfort and encouragement to numerous generations.

  2. Wade Petite says:

    Mr. Noland:

    I enjoyed reading your comment as I do with all well-reasoned arguments. That does not mean that I agree with any of those arguments, to wit:

    You claim that “Despite various versions however, the overriding message is the same from one version to another.” Is this a concession on your part that the Bible is NOT the Word of God but merely “divinely inspired”? Because the two positions are radically different. My argument is that as soon as the human scribe puts stylus to parchment the words that appear cannot, I repeat, cannot, be considered the Word of God. That is because the writer is merely taking dictation and is incapable of avoiding transmutation, a change in nature, form and quality. The transmutation becomes ever more pronounced with each successive translation.
    I cannot share your belief that the book is divinely inspired because without some credible evidence. Your proposition necessitates the acceptance that each successive translator was also “divinely inspired” because if a single scribe in the chain is not, then the book itself can no longer be so be so inspired.
    You write that “the language differences among well-respected don’t change the meaning.” How could they not? As you note, the English language itself has evolved since the King James translation, necessitating additional translation. Words go in and out of common usage. Across languages there are words that find no common meaning and defy exact, or even accurate translation. This all gets back to my point. The current versions contain many differences from the original. Even if that original was the Word of God, which I certainly do not concede, the current versions are not.

    You next address the merits of HB 503, which we seem to agree, had none. You do conclude, though, “the proposed bill hardly rises to the level of the establishment of religion.” I suggest a closer reading of the First Amendment and Article 8 of Louisiana’s Constitution. Both prohibit any law “respecting the establishment of religion;” i.e., relating to the establishment of religion.
    Additionally, if you read Everson v. Board of Education, the case which incorporated the Establishment Clause to the states, Justice Black wrote that neither a state or the federal government can “pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religion, or prefer one religion over another.” Do you contend that HB 503 did not, at least, prefer Christianity over other religions?

    As to the Bible’s value as a source of literature and history, having read it recently, I find your claim dubious, at best. I stick by my assessment that much of the text is unreadable and barely coherent, especially the Old Testament passages. It is poorly written. Maybe it’s time for a new translation. With regard to historical accuracy, there are some events that have been shown to have occurred. I, in fact, have read other source material about the Babylonians siege of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. and subsequent occupation.
    I would argue that the New Testament contains very little of historic value, though. I would challenge you to offer source material to bolster “verification of most events by outside sources.”

    With regard to the Founding Fathers, which ones do you propose to offer that have more gravitas than Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and Paine. Of course, not every participant in the American Revolution agreed about religious questions. That’s one of the reasons the First Amendment was added. To argue that these United States were founded upon Christian principles is patently absurd. Yes, reference to the Creator is made in the Declaration of Independence which is, without detracting from its brilliance or importance, political propaganda. All such references were excluded in our nation’s founding document, the Constitution, which is the law.

    Lastly, you write that the Bible “accurately predicted so many events.” I would be very interested in reviewing a list of such events because I am aware of none. It may have been “a source of comfort and encouragement to numerous generations” as you claim. It has also been the source of innumerable armed conflicts which have caused the lives of millions. When I need comfort and encouragement, and a better understanding of the human condition, I’ll continue to rely on Dickens, and Twain, and Orwell, and…The truly great writers of fiction.

    Wade Petite, The Creole

  3. bobby hoyt says:

    great discussion fellas. to add my 2 cents…im no theology expert so ill offer no insight on the merits of the words in the bible. i do find the purity and examples of Jesus to be inspiring and if true, could only mean to me that he was actually a divine man but as just a mere mortal, i dont pretend to KNOW this as truth. thats why its called faith and not fact. but the thing i do know is that when people say that the country was founded on christian beliefs, its that they dont understand that morality, as far as the constitution and bill of rights is concerned, are based on natural law and property rights and can be observed outside of the realm of Gods law. the libertarian philosophy is based in property rights and the non agression principle, which outlaws theft, assault, rape, murder, etc as a violation of property rights. One doesnt have to refer to say , the 10 commandments, to respect the rights of thy neighbor. One just needs to understand that we as individuals have no right to violate the rights of another. using religion only muddies up those values and to institute the Bible as the official book of the state would only further the division of the people.

  4. Wade Petite says:

    Mr. Hoyt:

    I think Thomas Jefferson would agree with most of what you say. Jefferson took it upon himself to produce what has come to be called “the Jefferson Bible” wherein he excised all passages in the New Testament deemed “miracles” and those that argued for Christ’s divinity and pasted together the rest. It is believed that Jefferson originally intended the remainder as a means of moral instruction for native-Americans but studied the moral teachings attributed to Jesus the rest of his life.

    As to your position on libertarian philosophy, I could not agree more. I hope that you continue to espouse that philosophy and that more of our fellow citizens study the matter for themselves.

    Wade Petite

    • bobby hoyt says:

      I most certainly will. As part of our libertarian PEC, i feel that in order for us to grow our party (our primary goal) we must speak the message, live the philosophy and encourage others to really understand the principles as they are. Not what the media tries to sell it as.

  5. Wade, you want Saban back? LOL. I feel that our founding document is the Declaration of Independence. We were our own nation at that point. The Constitution was a blue print for our form of government and the limitations of that government–supposedly.

    I am a believer in Jesus Christ. But I also felt like having the Bible as the state book would not be a good thing for some of the reasons you stated. But I also do not know why we spend so much precious time and money on state dogs, state poems, state all sorts of things in addition to other laws that are not really vital to the people to our state. I say this, and to be a hypocrite, I like that our state has a state tree, flower, bird. LOL. What a contradiction.

  6. Richard Acardo says:

    I personally think we need two other opinions that are obviously not present at this time in the reply section so we can truly get the gist of Mr. Petite’s article. Pope Francis and Bill Maher, notice I mentioned the Pope first because I am a Catholic and he is holier than thou. But on the other hand Bill is far more entertaining and well Religulous. Oh don’t let me forget I am also a democrat and I similar to Mr. Hoyt like the tree, the flower, and the bird. However I am convince that we would all be better served with John James Audubon’s Birds Of Louisiana as our state book. Beside bibles grace tucked away nightstands although half of the coffee tables in Louisiana proudly display the aforementioned picture book of our birds. I have no moral standing or authority to ponder such important concerns. I just get up and go to work everyday unlike our elected officials.

  7. Wade Petite says:

    I address this reply to my friend, Tim Babin. I would disagree that “we were our own nation” at the time of the Declaration of Independence was adopted. The text of the Declaration refers to “united (lowercase ‘u’) States of America” more than once. The word “united” is employed throughout the text as an adjective to describe the states/colonies, not as part of the title. In its concluding paragraph the Declaration states “these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States (plural).

    I interpret that to mean 13 independent states. Not until a year after the Declaration were the Articles of Confederation sent to the colonies for ratification. The Articles were necessary for them to establish a single army under a single commander. Maryland was the last state to ratify the Articles and did not do so until 1781 when the Revolutionary War was into its sixth year.

    I cannot agree that we were a nation as yet. In fact, after the Constitution was drafted it would not have been ratified had the Bill of Rights not been added. This was not accomplished until seven years had elapsed after the end of the war.

    None of this should take away from the Declaration’s brilliance and importance, but it was not the founding document of the United States. There was much doubt even after the war as to whether there would be a United States. The Declaration was virtually ignored until it was revived to bolster Thomas Jefferson’s electoral hopes in the 1790s. It was not universally appreciated until the War of 1812 when citizens began to identify with the nation as opposed to their home states.

    Now, on to more important matters. I intend no slight to Les Miles but, if he were no longer the coach of my beloved Fightin’ Tigers, I would absolutely love to have Saban back. I am in the minority because I harbor no ill will to Coach Saban. In fact, I am very grateful to him for improving my beloved Fightin’ Tigers to the point where two national championships were possible, and always will be.

    Geaux Tigers,

    Wade Petite

  8. Scott Sheets says:

    My head hurts.

  9. Wade Petite says:

    Is that because of the “Geaux Tigers” sign off or is because of that big old brain rattling around in your skull?
    Are you going to take me to game in the new on-campus football stadium?

  10. Tim Babin says:

    Wade,

    You make great points about the history there. But I will contend that we were a new nation on the adoption of the D of I. Not sure if we would have secured what little help we did get without that document. And from my understanding, those independent states were not dissolved with the ratification of the Constitution—though modified, I will concede. Good discussion.

    Oh on Saban, If he would have told the truth and said that he was entertaining the idea of going to the Dolphins, I would have had great respect for him. Going to Alabama, was just business, no animosity toward him for that. I am surprised he has not left Bama yet. I think he has one more team left in him to build up before he hangs his visor up. Of course he was all over the TV after they finished out–so maybe he skips the last team and goes to the broadcast booth. I bet he will get the biggest TV contract ever for a former coach. If he gets it, I can understand it. I will still gripe every time I see him though. LOL

  11. Wade Petite says:

    Tim

    I vividly remember playing Iowa on New Year’s Day in the Capital One (or whatever) Bowl in 2005 and it had just been made public that Saban was bolting for Miami. He certainly could have handled the transition and subsequent departure from Baton Rouge better. But the man gave us a National Championship which I never thought we’d have. He left the program in great shape and Les Miles has maintained LSU as a viable contender, almost on a yearly basis.

    My contention is that LSU would not have achieved these lofty heights without Nick Saban’s contributions. I, too, hope he tires of Alabama though I do very much enjoy playing his team every year.

    Geaux Tigers,

    Wade Petite

  12. Dwayne J. Perry says:

    I think if you forget all the big words and book smarts you have you will find Jesus…Love us brother…

    • admin says:

      Mr. Perry,

      So a condition of finding Jesus is forgetting “all the big words and book smarts?” No thank you.

      Wade Petite

  13. Tim Babin says:

    I agree with you in that he is a great coach. No doubt about it. In fact, he may be the best college coach in history. Still, i have my opinion about him. Thanks Wade for adding some well thought out editorials. I may not agree with some, but i sure like reading them.