Pennsylvania Lawmaker's Christian Prayer Stirs Controversy on the Day Legislature's 1st Muslim Woman Was Sworn In - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Pennsylvania Lawmaker's Christian Prayer Stirs Controversy on the Day Legislature's 1st Muslim Woman Was Sworn In

The Republican lawmaker from north-central Pennsylvania told the Associated Press that she did nothing wrong. But the state's first Muslim woman lawmaker disagreed.

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    Pennsylvania Lawmaker's Prayer Sparks Controversy

    State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, a Republican from north-central Pennsylvania, gave the opening invocation before the start of a House session on Monday. Its message drew rebukes from fellow lawmakers.

    (Published Tuesday, March 26, 2019)

    What to Know

    • State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz is a first-term Republican lawmaker from Clinton County, Pennsylvania.

    • State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell is the state's first Muslim woman elected to the Legislature. She won a special election in Philadelphia.

    • Johnson-Harrell described Borowicz's prayer as "blatant" Islamophobia. Borowicz said she was simply praying as she always does.

    A Pennsylvania lawmaker was accused of "weaponizing" religion after she delivered a Christian invocation on the floor of the State Capitol Monday, the same day the first Muslim woman was sworn into the legislature. 

    Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, a Republican from Clinton County, went on for nearly two minutes — talking about Jesus, Israel, Gov. Tom Wolf, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln — before another lawmaker yelled something from the audience.

    House Speaker Mike Turzai, whose method of choosing members and religious leaders to open hearings with prayers has invoked controversy of its own, then tapped Borowicz on the arm to wrap it up.

    Borowicz's prayer came the same day that Pennsylvania's first Muslim woman was sworn in. Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, a Democrat from Philadelphia who won a special election earlier in March, told a news outlet that she had a large group of friends and family in attendance. She said 30 of those 52 guests are also Muslim.

    "It blatantly represented the Islamophobia that exists among some leaders — leaders that are supposed to represent the people,” Johnson-Harrell told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star news site.

    A fellow Philadelphia lawmaker, Rep. Jordan Harris, said Borowicz's prayer "weaponized" religion.

    "On a day that should be celebrated across Pennsylvania as we see the first Muslim woman sworn into office, we instead started off with a rambling, at times incoherent prayer that consisted of weaponizing the name of Jesus while dipping into partisan rhetoric on President Donald Trump," Harris said of Borowicz's reference to the president's support of Israel in her prayer.

    "Let me be clear. I am a Christian. I spend my Sunday mornings in church worshiping and being thankful for all that I have. But in no way does that mean I would flaunt my religion at those who worship differently than I do. There is no room in our Capitol building for actions such as this, and it’s incredibly disappointing that today’s opening prayer was so divisive."

    Borowicz insisted she did nothing wrong, according to an Associated Press report.

    Her husband is an associate pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Jersey Shore, Lycoming County. A voicemail at the church and an email for Jason Borowicz seeking comment were not returned.

    "Absolutely not," she said as she headed into closed-door meeting afterward. "I pray every day. I prayed."

    Last year, a federal judge rejected Turzai's practice of refusing non-believers the chance to give the opening invocation before House sessions. House Republicans, who control the chamber, said they would appeal the ruling.

    From 1865 to 1994, the state House maintained a permanent chaplain to give invocations. Since 1994, however, guest chaplains, including lawmakers, have served in the role.