By Corinne Murdock |
State Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton skipped out on the ethics committee hearing concerning her swiping and hiding state capitol Bibles. Stahl Hamilton stands accused of unethical conduct and undignified behavior.
The House Ethics Committee considered the allegations against Stahl Hamilton in a hearing on Thursday. Chairman Joseph Chaplik (R-LD03) revealed in a statement following the hearing that Stahl Hamilton neglected to provide notice to the committee that she wouldn’t be participating in her own ethics hearing.
“Today’s hearing was not a trial, but the Committee made every effort to provide Representative Stahl Hamilton the due process to which she is entitled as a member of the House,” stated Chaplik. “Unfortunately, because of her absence, and the limited information that could be provided by the counsel she sent to represent her, committee members and the public were left with a lot of unanswered questions.”
Amid the fallout concerning her actions, Stahl Hamilton deleted her Twitter account. Reports surfaced in April of Stahl Hamilton caught on security footage taking Bibles from the members lounge and hiding them.
Former state lawmakers Diego Rodriguez and Domingo DeGrazia served as attorneys for Stahl Hamilton during Thursday’s hearing. Rodriguez insisted that, for full context’s sake, the committee be shown the many hours of footage surrounding the incident. The committee rejected that request.
Rodriguez defended Stahl Hamilton’s actions as a valid advocacy for the separation of church and state, as well as a “prank” on fellow members. However, when pressed, neither Rodriguez or DeGrazia could elaborate how the presence of Bibles at the state capitol constituted a violation of the separation of church and state.
“Her intent was the peaceful protest of what she perceived to be for the separation of church and state,” stated Rodriguez. “What today boils down to is that certain folks are just not comfortable with the way certain things happened. And subsequent to that, they’re not comfortable with the way certain things were explained. And unfortunately that’s just part of life.”
State Rep. Travis Grantham (R-LD13), vice chair of the committee and speaker pro tempore, read aloud Stahl Hamilton’s written response to the ethics committee investigation. In her letter, Stahl Hamilton acknowledged that she should have engaged in a discussion about the separation of church and state rather than engaging in the behavior she had.
“I find it a little disingenuous to reference church and state. You’re talking about the separation of church and state, which says no coercion in religious matters, no expectation to support a religious document or religion against one’s will, in that religious liberty encompasses all religions. How is a Bible sitting on a table somehow a violation of church and state?” asked Grantham. “Did Mrs. Stahl Hamilton feel like she was being coerced to follow a certain religion?”
Neither Rodriguez or DeGrazia had an answer for Grantham. The vice chair also asked whether the state motto, “God enriches,” would be considered a violation of the separation of church and state. Rodriguez and DeGrazia smiled but didn’t answer directly.
“It’s not seemingly normal behavior, and there doesn’t seem to be a real good answer with regards to what was written here,” said Grantham.
The 2005 case Van Orden v. Perry dispelled the argument that Christian text on government property violates the separation between church and state. In the case, a citizen claimed that the Texas State Capitol grounds couldn’t contain a monument bearing the Bible’s Ten Commandments. The Supreme Court disagreed in a 5-4 decision.
State Rep. Gail Griffin (R-LD19) said she didn’t view Stahl Hamilton’s actions as a joke.
“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,” said Griffin.
State Rep. Justin Heap (R-LD10) was one of the members who filed the complaint. Heap testified on Thursday, saying he became aware of Stahl Hamilton’s Bible swiping after it was reported on at the national level.
“What was particularly disturbing to me was not simply that these Bibles were removed, but the photos of where these Bibles were placed: both in a refrigerator and under the cushions of chairs of where I and other members and lobbyists sit,” said Heap. “Now I have to deal with the question of, if at some point while these Bibles were missing, was I sitting on my own sacred text? I don’t appreciate that to have happened. I feel that’s inappropriate for any member to do that to other members, it’s a desecration to their scripture and a disrespect to their beliefs.”
Rodriguez asserted that Heap didn’t personally observe the Bibles in any of the places where they were discovered.
State Rep. Jennifer Longdon (D-LD05) questioned whether Stahl Hamilton should be exonerated since she apologized following discovery of her actions. Heap responded that Stahl Hamilton’s apology didn’t absolve her of wrongdoing.
“The apology came only after her actions had been known; she was informed that this had been caught on video and that this became an issue of national concern. That does put a shadow over the sincerity of her apology,” said Heap. “That question is irrelevant to the question of whether her behavior was appropriate.”
Grantham pointed out that Stahl Hamilton’s apology wasn’t for the act of swiping and hiding the Bibles, but rather for the fact that some members felt offended by her actions.
“To my recollection, and correct me if I’m wrong: she didn’t apologize for the action. She apologized for the offense of anyone who thought that that action was inappropriate,” said Grantham. “I never remembered an actual apology for the action.”
Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to email@example.com.