The speaker of the state House and a group that promotes conservative pro-family views claims an applicant for the Independent Redistricting Commission was disqualified because of his Christian beliefs.
House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, said Monday the only comment made last week about the nomination of Tucsonan Christopher Gleason to the commission was by one screening panel member who pointed to Gleason's involvement with a Christian organization. That panelist, Louis Araneta, an attorney and former judge, questioned whether Gleason could separate issues of church and state.
Adams said those comments were wrong.
"People of faith have just as much right to the public arena as people without faith, or without a specific faith," he said. "We should not be sending a message to people of faith that we don't want you in the public arena because you simply can't handle the separation of church and state."
Adams said none of the other panelists objected to what Araneta said.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said a greater concern is that the panel which is screening applicants for the commission is the same one that nominates judges for the Arizona Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals.
"It's deeply disturbing that those individuals charged with selecting judges would say that faith in Jesus Christ is a disqualification for public service," she said.
State law directs the redistricting commission to draw lines for congressional and legislative districts, giving them great power to determine the political makeup of the Legislature and the state's congressional delegation.
The commission is composed of two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent. The partisan members are selected by elected party officials; the four commissioners then choose the fifth.
Last week the screening panel met to pare down the list of applicants to 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and five independents. Gleason, a Republican, did not make the list.
Herrod said the vote came after Araneta's comment - a comment to which other panel members did not object.
"Religious discrimination is alive and well in this country," Herrod said.
Araneta did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
But Dewey Schade, a Scottsdale Republican who sits on the screening panel, said the decision not to nominate Gleason had nothing to do with religion. He said the panel simply had to pare the list of 15 Republicans they chose to interview down to 10.
"Given that pool, he was not in the top 10 candidates, no more and no less than that," Schade said. "It's no reflection of the person's religion or beliefs."
Suzanne Ballard, another member of the screening panel, also denied omitting Gleason from the list was based on religion.
Adams said if there was another reason for omitting Gleason from the list, commissioners should say so.
In his application, Gleason said his civic activities include involvement in 4-Tucson, part of Vision 360 for Tucson. He said the goal of the organization is "to serve as a catalyst to engage the Christian community in the needs and dreams of Tucson to bring about spiritual renewal and prosperity to the glory of God" to make Tucson one of the most liveable cities in the world.
Gleason said those words came directly from the organization's mission statement.
Adams said he wants the commission to reconsider its vote.
Gleason said he does not want the debate to be about him. But he echoed Herrod's concerns about whether the panel members make similar decisions in choosing judges.
"If this is what the (screening) commission is doing on a non-judicial appointment, what are they doing with judicial appointments?" Gleason asked. "Is there some sort of a non-religious litmus test, or non-faith litmus test for judicial appointments?"
An aide to Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca Berch, who chairs the screening panel, said Monday she was out of the country and could not comment on either Araneta's statement or the vote.