Pennsylvania Legislators Get Free Holy Books During Swearing-In Ceremonies

The Pennsylvania General Assembly in January spent $13,700 on Bibles and other holy books for legislators, a Philadelphia newspaper has reported. The scriptures were distributed as gifts to state lawmakers when they were sworn into office. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the free giveaway is part of “a tradition dating back decades.” Legislators do not have to accept a Bible or other religious text, but most do. This year, only seven of 203 members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives chose not to receive the texts. Out of the 25 senators sworn into office, only one did not order a book. The legislators could choose from an array of holy scriptures, ranging in price from $30-$90, and for $15 extra, they could have their names embossed on the books. The Inquirer reported that the New American Catholic Bible was the most popular choice, with 72 House members picking it. But some members opted for a different holy tome. State Rep. Chris Ross, who took his oath in January on his own Bible, ordered a copy of the Quran, saying he always wanted to read it. State Rep. Dan Frankel, who this term ordered his seventh copy of the Torah since joining the House in 1998, downplayed the cost of the books. Frankel pointed out that the state’s overall budget is $28 billion. Even still, Frankel noted that the free scriptures may look bad in an era of belt tightening. “Everybody is looking to conserve resources,” he said. “At a time like this, maybe people should be asked to bring their own scripture with them.” One state activist was not amused by the tax-funded piety. “Holy Moses,” said Eric Epstein of rockthecapital.org, a coalition of watchdog groups founded in July of 2005 after Pennsylvania legislators voted themselves a large raise in the middle of the night. “By the time you arrive at this station in your life, you shouldn’t need the taxpayers to pay for your moral boarding pass.” Attorneys with Americans United are investigating the matter.