A Republican in the Pennsylvania Statehouse is facing criticism from House Democrats after she prayed for God’s forgiveness before the state’s first Muslim female representative was sworn in on Monday, the Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported.
State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz gave a nearly two-minute opening prayer before Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, a Democrat, joined the Legislature after winning a special election. In the prayer, according to the Capital-Star, Borowicz said Jesus 13 times, quoted from a chapter of the Bible asking God’s followers to “turn from their wicked ways,” asked explicitly for God’s forgiveness for having “forgotten you, God, in our country,” called Jesus “our only hope,” and praised President Donald Trump for his support of Israel.
As she gave the invocation, other members of the Legislature became visibly uncomfortable, and Democratic Rep. Margo Davidson yelled “objection” near the end of the prayer, according to the Capital-Star. House Speaker Mike Turzai can be seen in video of the moment placing his hand on Borowicz’s arm. She then quickly finished the prayer.
A number of House Democrats later spoke out against the prayer, and Johnson-Harrell, the new Muslim legislator, called for the General Assembly to censure Borowicz. “It blatantly represented the Islamophobia that exists among some leaders—leaders that are supposed to represent the people,” said Johnson-Harrell. “I came to the Capitol to help build bipartisanship and collaborations regardless of race or religion to enhance the quality of life for everyone in the Commonwealth.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said he was “horrified” by Borowicz’s prayer and told reporters “this is not the religion I grew up in.” The House minority leader took to the House floor to condemn the prayer. “Never have we started out with a prayer that divides us,” Rep. Frank Dermody said. House Minority Whip Jordan Harris put out a statement: “What we do not need is to see prayer and religion twisted to intimidate, discourage or subtly degrade any Pennsylvanian.”
But Borowicz, according to a local reporter, stood by her actions. “That’s how I pray every day,” she said. “Oh no, I don’t apologize ever for praying.”
According to the Capital-Star, the Pennsylvania House opens each legislative session with a prayer. After a federal judge ruled last year that agnostics, atheists, and humanists must be allowed to deliver invocations, the House replaced prayers by guest chaplains with invocations by legislators. On Monday, after the outcry, Turzai called on state lawmakers to “deliver an interfaith prayer” when giving an invocation. “We’d ask that you craft a prayer that is respectful of all religious belief,” he said.