As is customary at the state House, the session started with an opening prayer. But the prayer was anything but ordinary. State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton) recited her prayer, which according to Harrisburg blogger Sean Kitchen, Borowicz said “Jesus” 13 times, “God” six times, and “Lord” four times, all in less than two minutes. She also thanked Jesus for President Donald Trump and for his support for Israel. She made no mention of Islam, Muslims, or people of any other faiths.
Even state House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Marshall), a devout Christian, seems to change his expression about 45 seconds into the prayer and appears to tell Borowicz to wrap up the speech shortly after.
Others in the crowd, especially some Pittsburgh Democrats, were not pleased. Johnson-Harrell called the prayer “blatant Islamophobia.”
Pittsburgh-area state lawmakers found it questionable, an unwelcome distraction, and racist. State Rep. Summer Lee (D-Swissvale) was the first state lawmaker to criticize the prayer and she was by far the most critical. Lee accused Borowicz of being inappropriate and racist and called her an “Islamophobe.”
Today we're swearing in the 1st Black Muslim woman to the PA General Assembly. To honor the occasion @RepTurzai invites the most inappropriate, racist, islamophobe to ramble a "prayer" thanking Trump, Jesus, and Israel. Most inappropriate thing ive witnessed in my 4 months— Summer Lee (@SummerForPA) March 25, 2019
State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) said Borowicz’s prayer was a lost opportunity to display Pennsylvania’s diversity.
The opening prayer was a lost opportunity to show the strength in our diversity, and it was an unwelcome distraction from a proud day for @RepMovita, her guests and her constituents.— Dan Frankel (@RepDanFrankel) March 26, 2019
According to Johnson-Harrell, more than two dozen of her friends and family members were in attendance, many of whom are Muslim. Near the end of the prayer, an audible objection can be heard on the video.
After the prayer, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Oakmont) took to the floor.
“Never have we started out with a prayer that divides us,” Dermody said to applause from Democratic members, as reported by the Pennsylvania Capitol-Star. “Prayer should never divide us. It should bring us together.”
The House usually leads each session with a prayer, but ever since a federal judge ruled last year that atheists can’t be banned from leading the prayer, state lawmakers have been invited to lead it, instead of chaplains.
According to the Capitol-Star, following the backlash to the prayer, Turzai acknowledged the tension of the situation and said, “As you are preparing your thoughts, we’d ask that you craft a prayer that is respectful of all religious belief.”
Borowicz told PLS reporter Andrew Bahl, "That's how I pray every day,” and when asked about Democrats calls for an apology she said, "Oh no, I don't apologize ever for praying."
Johnson-Harrell called for an official censure of Borowicz. A censure is when the House votes whether or not to officially condemn a person's actions.
State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-East Liberty) tweeted that the whole incident overshadowed a historic moment.
Yesterday, on the House Floor, a historic moment that should have been celebrated, was overshadowed by a questionable prayer. No one in this Commonwealth or country should be devalued because of their race, religious beliefs or gender. pic.twitter.com/KzSIwyQUmL— Ed Gainey (@RepGainey) March 26, 2019