Freshman’s prayer in Pennsylvania House generates complaints
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A freshman Republican’s opening prayer Monday in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives drew complaints that it was inappropriately divisive.
Rep. Stephanie Borowicz began the day’s session with a Christian invocation that thanked Jesus for the honor and President Donald Trump for standing “behind Israel unequivocally.”
“At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord,” said Borowicz, elected in November to represent a Clinton County district.
Her remarks also brought up George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
Borowicz’s remarks occurred shortly before the swearing-in of Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, D-Philadelphia, the first woman Muslim to serve in the chamber.
Democratic Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County called Borowicz’s invocation “beneath the dignity of this House” and asked that a group be set up to review the procedure.
Dermody said Borowicz’s invocation stood out during his 28 years in the House.
“Never have we started out with a prayer that divides us,” Dermody said on the floor afterward. “Prayer should never divide us, it should be inspirational.”
His Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County, did not directly criticize or defend Borowicz.
“I, for one, understand that everybody has sincerely held beliefs and I would never ask any one of us as an individual to go against that,” Cutler said.
Borowicz, whose husband is an associate pastor at a Christian church in Jersey Shore, insisted she did nothing wrong.
“Absolutely not,” she said as she headed into closed-door caucus afterward. “I pray every day. I prayed.”
Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai is currently appealing a federal judge’s decision that halted his policy of preventing nonbelievers from giving the invocations.
Turzai, who decides who will offer the invocations, read for House members the guidance that has previously been provided to religious professionals about keeping their remarks respectful of all religious beliefs and to refrain from commenting on extraneous matters.
Since the court decision last summer, Turzai said, he has opted to have the invocations made by state representatives themselves.
This story has been corrected to show remarks were before new member was sworn in, not after.