A Confederacy of Dunces: Louisiana Legislature Advances Bill To Name The Bible “Official State Book”

In 1971, Amar and Raj, his wife, took a chance on the American Dream. Amar, an engineer, accepted a job at Louisiana State University, and although Raj, a nuclear physicist from a prominent Punjabi family, was six months pregnant at the time, they boarded a plane and resettled in Baton Rouge. There, they raised a family, two boys, both of whom they gave traditional Indian names. Their oldest was named Piyush, which means “milk,” and their youngest was named Nikesh, which roughly translates as “joy.”

Although they were a world away from India and although there wasn’t a Hindu temple in their newly adopted hometown, Amar and Raj continued to practice their religion. Religious services and ceremonies were held in the homes of other Indian immigrants. They raised their children as Hindus. As often as they could, they took family vacations to India. At least once a week, they would read passages from the Vedas to their boys.

Today, Amar and Raj still reside in Baton Rouge, and by any measure, they realized the promise of the American Dream. They own a home in a gated community, near the Baton Rouge Country Club. Amar works for one of the biggest engineering firms in the world, and Raj rose up the ranks at the Louisiana Department of Labor. Their first son went to Brown and then became a Rhodes Scholar. Their second son attended Dartmouth and then Yale Law School.

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When he was four years old, Amar and Raj Jindal’s first son, Piyush, asked to be called Bobby after Bobby Brady of “The Brady Bunch.” When he was eighteen, Bobby converted to Catholicism, and as an undergrad, he wrote about his conversion experience extensively, submitting his personal essays for publication in some of the country’s most well-known Catholic journals. His parents, he claimed, were initially disappointed about his conversion; they thought he was rejecting them, his heritage, and his traditions. But eventually, they realized he was earnest; it wasn’t merely youthful rebellion. Amar and Raj accepted and respected him fully.

America, after all, was founded by immigrants who believed in religious tolerance.

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This week, the Louisiana legislature is considering naming the Bible as the state’s “official book.” The bill, HB 503, already advanced out of committee. To be sure, it’s an entirely symbolic gesture, but nonetheless, the bill is certainly, defiantly unconstitutional, not that the United States Constitution matters to Louisiana lawmakers. Earlier in the session, the Louisiana Senate voted down a bill that would repeal a law requiring creationism to be taught alongside evolution in public schools, a law the Supreme Court struck down in 1987 but that, nonetheless, remains on the books. And on Tuesday, the Louisiana House rejected a bill that would revise the state’s unconstitutional anti-sodomy law to ensure it complied with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. Next week, the Louisiana Senate Education Committee will consider, for the fourth time, repealing the Louisiana Science Education Act, the state’s most recent unconstitutional attempt to inject new earth creationism in public school science classrooms.

Amar and Raj’s son leads a state that is now increasingly dominated by Christian dominionists, and under his watch, Louisiana lawmakers from both parties have become increasingly emboldened to codify their personal religious beliefs. Governor Jindal famously warned national Republicans that they need to stop being “the stupid party,” yet his own legislature, which is controlled by a Republican supermajority, continues to introduce and pass some of the dumbest, most blatantly unconstitutional laws in the country.

But the fault cannot be blamed entirely on Republicans. During the committee hearing on the bill to name the Bible as the state’s official book, Representative Stephen Ortego, a Democrat from Acadiana, objected, not because the bill was an affront to his constituents who practice another faith, but because the specific Bible identified by the bill was a King James Version, which was an affront to his religious beliefs as a devout Catholic. Ortego, without any sense of irony, didn’t argue that the state should recognize a more inclusive book; he argued that it should recognize a more Catholic-friendly Bible.

In many ways, the bill is designed to put Louisiana legislators in an almost impossible bind: It’s asking them to vote against the Bible.

The script needs to be flipped.

By voting to make the Bible the state’s official book, legislators are actually voting against the fundamental freedoms enshrined by the Constitution. They are voting against an America that celebrates and champions religious tolerance, inclusiveness, and diversity. Though they may not recognize it, they are voting to embrace the same type of fascist laws that motivate and inspire radical Islamic fundamentalists, laws that promote rigid theocracy.

And they are voting to make Louisiana a less welcoming, less tolerant, less promising land of opportunity for people like Amar and Raj Jindal.