Arizona governor ends support of ‘Bible Week’ proclamations

Tuesday, March 2, 1999

In a move that will help end a federal legal challenge against her, Arizona Gov. Jane Hull has decided to cease issuing “Bible Week” proclamations in the state.

Late last year the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union filed federal actions against a mayor and Hull for proclaiming the week of Nov. 23 “Bible Week.” Both proclamations lauded the Bible and urged citizens to read it.

Hull and the mayor were encouraged to make the proclamations by a New York-based nonprofit group, the National Bible Association. That group has labored for years to get government officials nationwide to issue Bible proclamations during Thanksgiving week. The group's mission statement declares it is dedicated to urging everyone to read the Bible.

After the suits were filed, U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver entered temporary injunctions against both proclamations. In her Nov. 23 order against Hull, Silver called the proclamation a violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

Initially, Hull defended the proclamation and vowed to fight the ACLU's lawsuit.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a national, conservative, religious law firm, joined Hull shortly after Silver's ruling. Gary McCaleb, an attorney in the ACLJ's Phoenix office, claimed the proclamation was only a “ceremonial gesture” that could not be considered a constitutional violation. “The proclamation merely shows a tradition of commemorating matters of importance to the life of the community,” he said.

Late last week, however, Hull announced she would no longer proclaim Bible week. “I want to bring people together,” she told The Arizona Republic. “I don't want to divide them.”

McCaleb saoid that he “would rather not comment,” about Hull's decision. Nonetheless, he said his group would still defend the Gilbert, Ariz., mayor who was also sued by the ACLU for issuing a Bible week proclamation.

Stephen Montoya, the Phoenix attorney who represented the ACLU in both challenges, said that the suit against Hull would be withdrawn.

“I think Governor Hull made a good decision because it is truly silly to fight over Bible week,” Montoya said. “It was only proclamation. It did, however, offend a lot of Arizona taxpayers. The offense was real, but the proclamation was not really concrete and did not actually advance anything.”

Montoya, moreover, said that the “Bible does not need the state of Arizona to promote it; the Bible is healthy, alive and well.”