Arizona Dem lawmaker faces formal reprimand for hiding Bibles as a part of protest

A Democratic lawmaker videotaped hiding two Bibles
for what she referred to as a lighthearted protest of the state legislature’s
violation of church and state is dealing with a proper censure from Republican
colleagues. 

In April, Rep. Stephanie Stahl
Hamilton, D-Tucson, was caught on video transferring Bibles within the member’s
lounge of the state Home of Representatives, after GOP management
ordered the set up of a digicam following weeks of confusion over
the usually displaced texts. 

They have been as soon as found beneath
the seat cushions of couches within the lounge, and one other time, one was
discovered inside a fridge. Stahl Hamilton, a Presbyterian minister,
defined that her actions have been meant each as a joke and a protest of
what she seen as a violation of church and state. 

However Republican lawmakers have been outraged and filed an ethics criticism,
calling for her to be punished for disorderly conduct, theft and
making a hostile work surroundings. Within the criticism, a trio of GOP
lawmakers, together with two pastors, accused Stahl Hamilton of exhibiting a
“flagrant disrespect” for his or her spiritual beliefs and people of all
Arizonans.

On Thursday, formal proceedings in
the investigation towards Stahl Hamilton started, throughout which Republican
legislators hotly criticized her for what they seen as discriminatory
actions and dismissed her claims of protest as nonsensical. Stahl
Hamilton didn’t present as much as the committee assembly, and selected as a substitute to
be represented by her attorneys. 

Questions concerning the motivation behind
putting in a video digicam within the member’s lounge and the bulk
get together’s unwillingness to launch the complete video have been sharply rebuffed by
committee management. 

“Was there a dialogue, like, ‘We’re
going to determine who did this and hearth them?’” Rep. Jennifer
Longdon, D-Phoenix, requested a member of Capitol safety, earlier than being reduce
off by Chairman Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, who mentioned her questioning
was irrelevant. 

Stahl Hamilton filed the ethics criticism earlier this yr towards GOP Rep. Liz Harris, which ultimately led to her expulsion
for permitting the dissemination of false prison allegations towards a
bevy of state officers at a legislative listening to after which mendacity about
it. 

Rep. Justin Heap, R-Mesa, one of many
lawmakers who filed the criticism towards Stahl Hamilton, frightened that
he might have inadvertently been pressured to disrespect his personal beliefs. 

“I sit in these chairs, so now I’ve
to take care of the query: In some unspecified time in the future whereas these Bibles have been
lacking, was I sitting alone sacred textual content?” he requested. “I really feel that
it’s inappropriate for any member to try this to different members. It’s a
desecration of their scripture and a disrespect for his or her beliefs.” 

However Stahl Hamilton’s attorneys, former
Democratic lawmakers Domingo DeGrazia and Diego Rodriguez, rebutted that
her profession as a pastor and her earlier clarification of her actions
refuted claims that she supposed to disrespect anybody’s spiritual
convictions. 

In an emailed assertion to the committee
that she additionally learn throughout a full assembly of the Home earlier this
yr, Stahl Hamilton mentioned that her purpose was “by no means to be harmful, to
by no means desecrate or to offend,” however somewhat to start a dialog about
the separation of church and state doctrine.  

“She has the utmost respect for the
course of and for different members of this physique. Nevertheless, she additionally has the
utmost respect for her First Modification proper to have interaction in peaceable
protest,” Rodriguez mentioned. “We might additional supply that — and he or she has
talked about it earlier than —  it was a prank, it was a joke, it was executed in
jest.” 

However Republicans on the panel have been
unconvinced. Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, questioned how simply the
presence of a guide constituted a violation of the separation of church
and state doctrine. 

“How is having a Bible sitting on a
desk one way or the other a violation of church and state?” he requested. “Did she really feel
like she was being coerced to comply with a sure faith?” 

DeGrazia and Rodriguez refused to
elaborate on Stahl Hamilton’s motivations, as a substitute repeatedly pointing
to her written assertion within the face of continued grilling from
lawmakers. Grantham rapidly grew to become pissed off with the stalemate, and
in contrast Stahl Hamilton’s habits with that of previous lawmakers expelled
from the legislature, saying that the committee has a accountability to
examine. 

“What we choose right here as members of the
Home is moral versus unethical habits. We’ve expelled members,
no matter get together line, for participating in fairly ridiculous habits. It
occurred this yr, it occurred (5) years in the past,” Grantham mentioned,
referencing the expulsion of then-Republican Rep. Don Shooter for sexual
misconduct in 2018. “I’m attempting to determine what we’re doing right here,
as a result of it’s not seemingly regular habits.” 

Rodriguez shot again that, whereas
Grantham and different lawmakers might disapprove of Stahl Hamilton’s protest
or be unhappy along with her clarification, her actions should not comparable
to Shooter’s, and don’t quantity to an ethics violation. 

“What right this moment boils all the way down to is that
sure people are simply not snug with the way in which sure issues
occurred, and subsequent to that, they’re not snug with the way in which
issues have been defined, and that’s sadly simply part of life,”
Rodriguez mentioned. “Nevertheless it doesn’t rise to the extent of one thing that
clearly insults the dignity of the physique and that clearly offends individuals,
and that clearly — when individuals of fine conscience are introduced with
one thing — is a violation.” 

Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, remained skeptical, stating what she perceived as a double customary for spiritual beliefs. 

“What if she did this to the Quran?” she requested. “What would the response be?”

There are not any copies of the Quran within the members’ lounge of the Home, nor another spiritual texts apart from Bibles. 

A remaining determination from the Ethics
Committee, which is able to advocate what motion, if any, the legislative
physique as a complete ought to take isn’t anticipated till June 12, when the
legislature reconvenes after its newest recess. 

The committee can advocate to
censure or expel Stahl Hamilton, however the latter consequence is very
unlikely with out Democrats on board to make up the two-thirds
supermajority vote wanted to take action. Censure, in the meantime, requires solely a
easy majority, and Republicans presently outnumber Democrats by one.