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March 05, 2015
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Year of the Bible flap

HARRISBURG, PA — On January 28, members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously adopted a handful of so-called “noncontroversial” measures, which often get passed without much fanfare. This time, however, the measure that proclaimed 2012 as “The Year of the Bible” turned out to be a bit more controversial than the authors might have guessed.

The resolution said, in part, “Whereas, Renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through holy scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people; therefore be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives declare 2012 as the “Year of the Bible” in Pennsylvania in recognition of both the formative influence of the Bible on our commonwealth and nation and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the holy scriptures.”

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as residents and newspapers, objected to the legislature officially endorsing a religious text and, by February 16, two legislators, Representative Mark Cohen and Representative Babette Josephs, said they had made a “mistake” in voting for the legislation.

At a press conference, Cohen said, “We made an official state decision in a non-binding resolution that has no mandatory effect on anybody, but we made an official state decision that people ought to read the Bible.”

Cohen pointed out that President Ronald Reagan once wanted to proclaim a year of the Bible, but it was not appropriate then, and no president since then has attempted something similar. Cohen filed a motion to have the measure reconsidered, but so far it has not come up for a vote.

The Reverend Sandra Strauss, director of public advocacy for the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, joined Cohen at the press conference and said that Pennsylvania has a long history of religious tolerance, and that the “Year of the Bible” resolution ignores that heritage.

She said, “I ask today that the House reconsider this recently passed resolution on ‘The Year of the Bible’ and recognize that it is only when we recognize our shared values that we can create a world that encompasses and fulfills William Penn’s vision of ‘peace, justice, generosity, and tender mercies,’ where all persons are accorded the dignity and respect due them because they are part of sacred creation.”

Others who attended the press conference included representatives of the Quakers or Society of Friends; Tim Potts, director of Democracy Rising PA; Jay Anthony Stotts, sensei of a Buddhist congregation; Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania; and Ernest Pierce V, Pennsylvania state director of American Atheists.

In correspondence to a journalist about the matter, Representative Babatte Josephs apologized for the vote, and added, “I want you to know that during almost every session day across the country (and in Pennsylvania), legislators are asked to offer and pass resolutions proclaiming such things as Freedom Day, Cephalopod Awareness Day, Sleep Awareness Day, Hispanic Heritage Month, World Wetlands Day, Read to Your Child Day, World Habitat Awareness Month, not to mention National Library Month, Arbor Day, Earth Day and Talk Like a Pirate Day.”