Republicans cast doubt on Stahl Hamilton's apology for Bible-hiding prank

By Ben Giles
Published: Thursday, May 25, 2023 - 1:14pm
Updated: Thursday, May 25, 2023 - 1:40pm

Arizona state Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton apologizes for hiding bibles
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton apologizes to House colleagues on April 26, 2023, for moving around and hiding the Bibles in the members’ lounge.

A Republican on the Arizona House Ethics Committee said he isn’t buying Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton’s apology for a Bible-hiding prank caught on hidden camera.

Stahl Hamilton, a Tucson Democrat, has publicly acknowledged the incidents — when on multiple occasions, she swiped Bibles from end tables in the Arizona House members’ lounge and hid them under cushions, and in one instance, a nearby refrigerator.

In an apology delivered on the House floor, as well as a written response to the ethics committee, Stahl Hamilton — an ordained Presbyterian minister — has described her actions as a playful commentary on the separation of church and state and a protest against the weaponization of religion in politics.

“I think it’s a red herring,” said GOP Rep. Travis Grantham, vice chair of the ethics committee.

“To me, this is a total joke, decoy. I’ll just be honest about it,” Grantham added. “So please explain to me what was violated when it comes to the separation of church and state by having a Bible on a table.”

Stahl Hamilton was not present at an ethics hearing Thursday morning to address those questions. Instead, she sent two attorneys — both former lawmakers — to answer on her behalf.

For the most part, those lawyers referred back to her previous statements and declined to answer questions from the three Republican members of the committee, all of whom vented their frustration with her absence.

Stephanie Stahl Hamilton hidden Bibles in Arizona House members
Arizona House of Representatives
Top: Frame from House hidden camera shows Rep. Staphanie Stahl Hamilton hiding Bibles. Below: House security photos show the Bibles under a cushion and in a refrigerator.

“Since we’re not going to get any answers, I don’t see this as a joke. I don’t see this as funny,” said GOP Rep. Gail Griffin.

“I don’t understand why she’s so angry about a holy book that many of us feel very close [to] and rule our lives by,” Griffin added. “The separation of church and state has nothing to do with this except for the misinterpretation she sees there.”

Former Rep. Diego Rodriguez, one of Stahl Hamilton’s attorneys, said however certain lawmakers may feel about her prank, it doesn’t warrant punishment — and the body should move forward.

“Certain folks are just not comfortable with the way certain things happened,” Rodriguez said. “And subsequent to that, they’re not comfortable with the way certain things were explained. And that is, unfortunately, just a part of life.”

“But it doesn’t rise to the level of something … that clearly insults the dignity of the body,” he added.

Thursday's hearing was in response to a complaint, filed by the three first-term Republican representatives, who accused her of disorderly conduct under House rules, theft and creating a hostile work environment under state and federal laws protecting workers from religious discrimination.

Rep. Joseph Chaplik, the Republican chair of the ethics committee, disregarded two of those charges — the committee is no court of law and can not determine if Stahl Hamilton, or anyone, is criminally liable for anything.

But the committee will issue a report by June 12 that could recommend some form of punishment — as little as a censure, at most, expulsion — if they believe Stahl Hamilton violated House rules.

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