BAYHAM: The Holy Bible And Official State Business

Louisiana has an official beverage.

And amazingly enough it is NOT Barq’s root beer, but milk.

Louisiana has an official dog (Louisiana Catahoula Leopard), doughnut (beignet- though this one is understandable), folk dance (square dance), crustacean (crawfish- also justifiable), bird (Brown Pelican- do you see how these things happen- who could possibly vote against this?), mineral (Agate), salt water fish (speckled trout) and fresh water fish (sac-au-lait).

A few dozen other items (boat, flowers, poems, etc.) have had their official status enacted into law, not so much based on merit but by legislators not looking to anger a colleague on a “throw away vote.”

Representative Thomas Carmody (R) of Shreveport decided to bring forth a bill that makes the Johannes Prevel edition from the 16th century that is the oldest Bible in the LSU library system the official book of Louisiana.

And while Representative Carmody’s intention might have been sincerely aimed at a specific edition, the way the legislation was interpreted by the media was that he was seeking to make the Good Book in general the state’s official book.

After his bill was changed in committee to the Holy Bible, Carmody announced he was withdrawing his legislation out of concern for the constitutionality of his amended bill and that his measure had become a distraction to the legislature’s work in the 2014 session.

Sometimes the best intentions, when crafted in the form of legislation, lead to perdition (and a lot of ridicule by humorless newspaper editors).

Back in 2003, Chalmette State Representative Nita Hutter pushed through a bill to make the creole tomato, which is closely identified with her St. Bernard Parish constituency, the state’s official vegetable.

Unfortunately for Representative Hutter, a number of her colleagues insisted that while the creole tomato might have been worthy of being deemed something officially recognizing, not even that body was willing to cross the boundary of botany, which classifies it as a fruit, not a vegetable (as it is widely considered in the culinary realm).

After an extensive debate as to what a creole tomato is, a compromise was reached resulting in Louisiana Revised Statute § 49:170.11 that legally declared that “There shall be an official state vegetable plant. The official state vegetable plant shall be the Creole Tomato” and that “There shall be an official state vegetable. The official state vegetable shall be the sweet potato.”

Note the distinction between “vegetable plant” and “vegetable.”

2003, an election year, was a big year for making things official as the Natchitoches Meat Pie (Louisiana Revised Statute § 49:170.9) became THE meat pie of Louisiana.

And then there are times when even a slight distinction could not be made (see Louisiana Revised Statute § 49:170.8 State Jellies- also adopted in 2003). We also have two state songs, one that everyone has heard of but lacks any lyrical connection to the state and the other nobody has ever heard of but has Louisiana in its title.

Ten years prior, the State Senate was the scene of “Frog Fight 1993.”

State Senators John Hainkel and Jon Johnson introduced a bill to make the green tree frog (Hyla cinerea) Louisiana’s official amphibian. To the bill’s sponsors’ credit, this was the result of a vote by students participating in a contest run by the Louisiana Nature and Science Center.

Unfortunately for the small frog and the voice of the children, the Louisiana Senate at that time was an ornery place and one of its mascots was State Senator Willie Crain who churlishly offered an amendment making the stout bull frog (Lithobates catesbeianus) the state’s representative amphibian. Senator Crain defended his move by pointing out that the bull frog as an animal that could be easily seen and heard.

Amazingly enough, the amendment passed, perhaps indirectly aided by State Senator James Cox of Lake Charles, who argued that the alligator would be a yet better official amphibian. Moments after speaking, Senator Cox had what President Obama would charitably describe as a teachable moment about reptiles.

Eventually the State Senate decided to end their insanity, respected the voice of the little people and on its third vote succeeded where school kids accomplished in one.

Though there are translations of the Bible that differ amongst some of Christianity’s individual churches, there would have been no harm in adopting Carmody’s measure, original or altered, as the state’s official book, especially as the Bible is used in a number of legal acts, from politicians’ oath of office ceremonies to swearing in witnesses at trial.

Compared to some of the absurd measures the Louisiana Legislature has passed over the years, making the most influential text in American society the state’s official book might have been controversial but by comparison to the lengthy list of items that have been declared official (including the Cajun accordion), a more respectable act.

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