Democrat caught hiding Bibles in House, apologizes

Democrat caught hiding Bibles in House, apologizes


Bibles, Stahl Hamilton, House, members' lounge
This shows a Bible that Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, D-Tucson, put in a refrigerator that House members and staff use. The lawmaker apologized to her colleagues on April 26 for removing and hiding Bibles in the members’ lounge, saying it was her way of protesting a lack of separation of church and state. (Photo courtesy of Arizona House of Representatives)

A Democratic lawmaker apologized to her colleagues on the House floor Wednesday for removing and hiding Bibles in the members’ lounge, calling the act a protest of a lack of separation of church and state.

The apology from Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, D-Tucson, came after video footage from April 10 of her taking Bibles in the lounge was broadcast by Arizona’s Family on April 25, ending a weeks-long internal House investigation of the culprit behind the missing Bibles.

“The intent was never to be destructive, to never desecrate, or to offend,” Stahl-Hamilton, an ordained Presbyterian minister, said in her apology. “I acknowledge that a conversation about the separation of church and state should’ve begun with a conversation.”

Stahl-Hamilton explained to reporters that she’s often felt frustrated that the Bible is used “as a weapon” at the Legislature. One day last month while she was sitting in the members’ lounge, she saw a copy of the Bible and hid it underneath a couch cushion in the lounge. She said she did this because there was no other place to put it out of eyesight in the lounge like a cabinet and because she felt it was inappropriate to only have one religion represented in the lounge.

House, Bibles
Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, D-Tucson

This continued two days later when she noticed another Bible on the other side of the lounge, and then the week after when the Bibles were returned. Stahl-Hamilton even hid one Bible in the community refrigerator used by House members and staff, which she said was “cheeky.” She admitted that her actions were “impulsive,” but her only intent was to put away the Bibles.

“At the time it felt like a simple little prank,” she said. “In my brain, I felt like it’s a game. It’s just a peaceful, playful, protest of why we have religious books – just one – in a government building,” she added.

Several Republicans didn’t share her opinion. Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, said April 26 that the camera placed in the members’ lounge was a direct response to the missing Bibles that was recommended by security and approved by House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Peoria.

Many House Republicans joined Rep. Lupe Diaz, R-Benson, at his desk for his prayer April 26 prior to Stahl-Hamilton’s apology. Diaz delivered a speech about the Bible, explaining its various parts and role in history.

“Over the millennia, tyrants have tried to eliminate it, burn it, bury it, hide it and keep it from people,” Diaz said.

Diaz never referenced Stahl-Hamilton by name as a “tyrant,” but the demonstration from Republicans clearly condemned her actions.

Minority Leader Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, called Stahl Hamilton’s actions a “poor choice in judgment” and said that he addressed it with her. He added that he believes her apology is sincere and commended her for doing it in front of the entire body on the House floor.

“I believe what she was trying to do, which is very consistent, is share that there are many faiths. Not just one,” Cano said.

Grantham said Bibles have been in the members’ lounge for as long as he can remember as a legislator, but other religious texts have been present at times too.

“Anything anybody wants to read, as far as I know, has been in there. I have seen Korans in there. I’ve seen them open to certain pages on tables,” Grantham said. “The Bibles have always been in there. I don’t know what’s regularly in there other text wise.”

The larger issue, Cano said, was how Republicans responded to the issue and how the investigation was handled. According to Cano, Democrats were not informed of the hidden camera in the members’ lounge, and they only learned of the issue on when Arizona’s Family broadcast the footage.

“I had no idea there was an issue with Bibles less than 24 hours ago,” Cano said.

While Cano expressed privacy concerns over Republican leadership’s investigation, Grantham argued theft in the lounge cannot go “uninvestigated.”

“That’s not a safe space for people who are committing crimes or felons. It’s a place where we go to have meetings, so if somebody’s stealing property, we have to find out who’s doing it,” Grantham said.

Other Republicans have discussed filing an ethics complaint against Stahl-Hamilton over the matter. Both Reps. Justin Heap, R-Mesa, and Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, tweeted support for an ethics complaint to be filed after they saw the video footage.

Republican activist Merissa Hamilton told The Arizona Capitol Times on April 26 that she believed Stahl-Hamilton’s actions met the definition of disorderly conduct for disturbing a class of people – Christians. She said she asked House leadership and her House Reps. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, and Justin Wilmeth, R-Phoenix, to file an ethics complaint against Stahl-Hamilton.

“I felt it was our duty as citizens to not let this go with a simple halfhearted apology. … It is so bizarre what she’s doing and she’s on video making it look like she’s sneaking around so obviously and it’s very, very bizarre, and it’s unbecoming of a legislator,” Hamilton said.

An ethics complaint against Stahl-Hamilton would be the second in the House this session. Stahl-Hamilton filed the first one against expelled Rep. Liz Harris. Toma told Capitol Media Services he has no intention of filing a complaint himself, but another member might.  

Cano criticized the response from Republicans over the issue and said he believes it’s “political retaliation” for Harris’ expulsion. He said Republicans didn’t allow Democrats to handle the issue internally and said he would have navigated the issue much differently.

The hidden camera in the lounge is now gone, Grantham said. But Cano argued the three weeks of “big brother” footage it recorded of all members and lobbyists in the lounge should be released as a public record.

“I think the Republican majority was trying to get a gotcha moment not recognizing that now this exposes how much they want to interfere in our day-to-day lives,” Cano said.

Yellow Sheet Editor Wayne Schutsky and Arizona Capitol Times Legislative Reporter Camryn Sanchez contributed reporting to this article.