JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is the birthplace of William Faulkner, Richard Wright and recent U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey. However, some lawmakers say they want to look beyond the secular literary world and designate the Bible as the state book.
At least two bills are being filed during this state election year to make the holy book a state symbol.
One is from Republican Rep. Tracy Arnold of Booneville, who is the pastor of a nondenominational Christian church. The other is from Democratic Reps. Tom Miles of Forest and Michael Evans of Preston, who say they have promises of bipartisan support from more than 20 colleagues.
Miles told The Associated Press on Monday he's not trying to force religion — or even reading — on anyone.
"The Bible provides a good role model on how to treat people," Miles said. "They could read in there about love and compassion."
Lawmakers say designating the Bible as the state book would be completely symbolic and nobody would be required to read it. Furthermore, Miles' version would not specify a particular translation.
Mississippi lawmakers over the years have designated several other symbols, including the teddy bear as the state toy and milk as the state beverage. The teddy bear was named for President Theodore Roosevelt after he refused to shoot a bear tied to a tree while hunting in Mississippi.
In 2014, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law that adds "In God We Trust" to the state seal. Legislators also begin each work day with a prayer over the microphone at the front of the House and Senate chambers, frequently with references to Jesus.
It's unlikely the proposal will generate much opposition in the Legislature this election year, unless House and Senate leaders decide they don't want to spend time on symbols.
Larry Wells — whose late wife, Dean Faulkner Wells, was William Faulkner's niece — said Monday that if Mississippi lawmakers feel compelled to designate a state book, they should draw on the state's native talent.
"It's impossible to conceive of a state abandoning its literary heritage like that," said Wells, director of a small publishing house in Oxford, Yoknapatawpha Press. "What would Faulkner and (Eudora) Welty and Shelby Foote and Richard Wright think? I think they would collectively link arms and say, 'Go back to kindergarten, Legislature.'"