Holy Hijinks: How One Lawmaker's Bible Prank Turned into an Ethics Inquiry!

An Arizona representative, who is also a minister, is under investigation by the state’s House of Representatives for staging a prank involving the Bible.

State Representative Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, a Democrat and a Presbyterian Minister, is facing an ethics complaint for her playful prank, where camera footage saw her hiding Bibles from her fellow representatives in unusual places, like under the table or inside a refrigerator.

The Republican leadership in Arizona’s House of Representatives caught wind of Hamilton’s stunts, so they installed hidden cameras in the building to catch who was doing the prank. When Hamilton was seen hiding her colleagues’ Bibles, not everyone in the House was amused with her antics.

In fact, three Republican representatives, Justin Heap, David Marshall, and Lupe Diaz, filed an ethics complaint against Hamilton. They accused her of theft, disorderly conduct under House rules, and creating a hostile work environment, violating state and federal laws that protect workers from religious discrimination.

"We, and other members of the Arizona House who cherish our faith and hold the Bible in reverence, do not see Representative Stahl Hamilton's disrespect of scripture as playful in any regard," the complaint said.

Because the House of Representatives is not a judicial court, an ethics complaint cannot file criminal charges against anyone. However, the inquiry can lead to a vote within the legislature, resulting in Hamilton’s censure or expulsion.

"Something of this magnitude that's made national news, I think it's only wise to allow the person that has the claim held against him to come and speak about it," Joseph Chaplik, a Republican state representative who also heads the House’s Ethics Committee, said regarding the prank. "Due process, let them talk and understand what happened and let's figure out if this is a valid or invalid claim against them."

While Republicans and Hamilton’s own pastor, who described the prank as “ill-advised,” did not find the joke funny, others understood her intention behind the playful act. The Democrat representative said her prank was a commentary on the separation of church and state and the weaponization of politics in Arizona and elsewhere in the US.

"I don't necessarily agree with putting a Bible in a refrigerator," Rev. Katie Sexton-Wood, head of the interfaith Arizona Faith Network, said, adding that she appreciates the point Hamilton is trying to make.

Others saw the complaint as political revenge against her, who filed an ethics complaint last March against a Republican state representative for spreading baseless election conspiracy theories against other elected officials.

"This should not be about political retribution, and I'm worried with what I'm seeing so far," Representative Andrés Cano, House Minority Leader, told PBS regarding the inquiry against Hamilton.

Hamilton apologized for the prank during a speech, saying that she never meant to desecrate the Bible or offend anyone and adding that the conversation regarding the separation of church and state should have begun as an actual conversation instead of a prank.

"I recognize that my actions could have been seen as something less than playful and offensive," Stahl Hamilton said. "And for those of you who I have deeply offended, I apologize."

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