Arizona lawmaker caught on video hiding Bibles in state capitol building, issues apology

 PHOENIX – An Arizona House Democrat and ordained minister recorded on video hiding Bibles at a lounge at the state capitol apologized to her peers for her actions.

"I hold Scripture very dear to my heart," state Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, D-Tucson, said Wednesday, following the moment of prayer that begins every House floor session. "I recognize my actions could have been seen something as less than playful – and offensive."

Stahl Hamilton described her actions as a type of protest regarding the separation of church and state.

"The intent was never to be destructive, to never desecrate or to offend," she said.

The missing Bibles were a "mystery" that went on for weeks until House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Glendale, took the advice of capitol security personnel and ordered a camera placed in the House members' lounge, said Speaker Pro Tempore Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert.

Some of the Bibles were discovered under seat cushions in the lawmakers' lounge, and one was found in the refrigerator, he said. The lounge is a private area for House members off the main floor.

"It makes me a little uncomfortable, and I think it's kind of offensive to people who believe in and cherish the Bible," Grantham said. "I feel like a disappointed dad."

Several House members stood next to Rep. Lupe Diaz, R-Benson, a pastor, as he delivered the morning prayer and talked about how "tyrants" have tried to burn, bury or hide the Bible from people.

Stahl Hamilton's official legislative member bio states that she graduated with a degree in Christian Education from Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts, and later earned a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. She also has served at a Presbyterian church as director of Christian Education and Youth Ministry.

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Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, D-Tucson, speaks as the House votes on bills related to the budget at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on June 24, 2021.

Will Stahl Hamilton face punishment?

It wasn't clear Wednesday whether Stahl Hamilton would face any disciplinary action. Toma declined to comment.

The House recently expelled one of its members for disorderly conduct following an ethics investigation sparked by a complaint filed by Stahl Hamilton.

But House Democratic Leader Rep. Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, said some members were concerned about the camera placed in the lounge.

"We have members wondering what is public record and what is not," Cano said. He added that he wasn't as concerned about how Stahl Hamilton got caught as the fact that Democrats were left out of the loop. He added that he learned about her actions "24 hours ago" on Twitter.

Grantham said the camera, which had also drawn complaints from a few Republican House members, was removed immediately after Stahl Hamilton was caught.Stahl Hamilton: 'It just felt like it's a game'

Stahl Hamilton dubs actions 'simple little prank'

After the House floor session, Stahl Hamilton told reporters that her "protest" didn't hinge on any particular incident but she was frustrated that "the Christian Bible gets used like a weapon around this place."

She was sitting in the lounge a few weeks ago and noticed for the first time that the room contained a Bible, even though it was "a government building."

"And so I just took it and put it in the couch cushions," she said. "At the time it just felt like a simple little prank."

Two days later, she noticed another Bible in the lounge and hid that one, too. A week later, they were back.

"To my brain, it just felt like it's a game ... a peaceful, playful protest," she said. "I have long been frustrated by the blurred lines between separation of church and state." So, she hid them again.

Putting one in the lounge refrigerator was "cheeky," she said.

Corazón Arizona, a multi-faith organization in metro Phoenix, sent a statement to The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network, defending Stahl Hamilton's actions, saying her protest against "the extremists legislating hate" in the state House were now being used "in an attempt to shame" her.

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