Pa. Legislature’s first Muslim woman calls prayer delivered by fellow House member blatant ‘Islamophobia’

Rep. Stephanie Borowicz delivers a prayer.

A first-year member of the Pennsylvania House on Monday offered a prayer laden with political and Christian imagery shortly before the swearing in of the chamber’s first Muslim woman.

Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, said “Jesus” 13 times, “God” six times, and “Lord” four times, as Raging Chicken Press writer Sean Kitchen first noted on Twitter. She also expressed thanks to God that President Donald Trump “stands besides Israel” in a rambling, nearly two minute prayer.

“Jesus, you are our only hope,” Borowicz said during the prayer.

Borowicz delivered the prayer shortly before Movita Johnson-Harrell — the first Muslim woman elected to the General Assembly — was sworn in.

READ MORE: ‘Our diversity is our strength’: Movita Johnson-Harrell will be Pa. Legislature’s first female Muslim lawmaker

Johnson-Harrell said the prayer was “highly offensive to me, my guests, and other members of the House.”

“It blatantly represented the Islamophobia that exists among some leaders — leaders that are supposed to represent the people,” Johnson-Harrell said in a statement sent via text message. “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.”

Johnson-Harrell said she had 55 guests in attendance, 32 of whom are Muslim.

The Pa. House traditionally opens up each session with prayer. After a federal judge ruled last year that agnostics, atheists, humanists, and other non-believers should be able to deliver invocations, the House stopped inviting guest chaplains to deliver prayers, relying instead on lawmakers.

Following a House committee hearing, Borowicz said she hadn’t heard any blowback to her remarks. She declined to comment further, but later told The PLS Reporter she won’t apologize.

The prayer drew immediate outrage from House Democrats and was denounced as Islamophobic by the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group.

Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Delaware, yelled “objection” near the end of Borowicz’s prayer. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, did not acknowledge the objection but touched Borowicz on the arm. She hastily concluded the prayer.

“As an evangelical Christian, I was offended by [the prayer’s] lack of humility or care or, dare I say, love for a human being duly elected by [her] district,” Davidson said in a statement via text message. “It was mean spirited.”

Other members, like newly elected progressive Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, took to social media to express disapproval.

House Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, also put out a strongly worded statement, saying Borowicz’s remarks weaponized religion and flaunted her faith to those who worship differently.

“What we do not need is to see prayer and religion twisted to intimidate, discourage or subtly degrade any Pennsylvanian, especially one sent by her constituents to represent them in Harrisburg,” Harris said in a statement. “I’m confident this issue will be dealt with appropriately and our opening prayer will be returned to an inclusive invocation allowing us to respect each other and our differing beliefs.”

A sociologist who studies Islamophobia in the U.S. said that Johnson-Harrell and others were right to identify the prayer as Islamophobic, even though Borowicz never mentioned Islam or Allah.

Erik Love, a professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle, said the prayer reinforced the primacy of white Christianity in American public life and politics.

“The idea behind Islamophobia is that the U.S. or Pennsylvania is properly a white and Christian place,” Love said. “Christians are first-class citizens, and then Muslims are at best second-class citizens or are unwelcome.”

Given the context in which Borowicz’s benediction was delivered — on the day that the Legislature was to welcome its first Muslim woman representative — “it’s an attempt to reaffirm the idea that Pennsylvania is a Christian, white commonwealth and someone like Rep. Johnson is less welcome,” Love said.

“It doesn’t explicitly say [Pennsylvania] is a Christian commonwealth, but the implication is quite clear,” Love added. “[Johnson-Harrell] is correct to say it was divisive and offensive.”

The regional leader of America’s largest Muslim civil rights group agreed.

“This was a mean-spirited, Islamophobic, anti-semitic, and xenophobic benediction which should have never been delivered in the statehouse,” said Jacob Bender, executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Bender said that Borowicz relied on “triumphalist” tropes that implied the supremacy of Christianity over other religions.

By saying that Jesus is “our only hope” and by willing “every knee” to bow to a Christian god, Borowicz delivered a message that excluded not only Muslims but also Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, and Native Americans who follow indigenous traditions, Bender said.

Religious leaders and lawmakers can craft respectful, interfaith benedictions if they focus on universal principles shared by religious groups — ideas like caring for the poor and needy, Bender said.

That’s what Turzai called on lawmakers to do Monday, after outrage over Borowicz’s prayer spread on social media and in the press. Turzai called on members to remember to “deliver an interfaith prayer” when speaking.

“As you are preparing your thoughts, we’d ask that you craft a prayer that is respectful of all religious belief,” Turzai said.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, a 28-year veteran lawmaker, also took to the House floor.

“Never have we started out with a prayer that divides us,” Dermody said to applause from Democratic members. “Prayer should never divide us. It should bring us together.”

Given the historic significance of Johnson-Harrell’s election, and the spike in Islamophobic hate crimes world-wide, Dickinson’s Love said Borowicz squandered a valuable opportunity by choosing to deliver an exclusionary prayer.

“This would have been a great opportunity to reaffirm the very American values of pluralism, diversity, and religious freedom and to cherish the great strength that comes from diversity,” Love said. “It’s very unfortunate that instead of talking about that, we’re focused on this very controversial benediction.”

Updated 6 p.m.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for finally bringing light to the blatantly ignorant leaders in our state. Hopefully representative Movita will be accompanied by her fellow leaders and work to bring our state into the 21st century.

  2. The prayer was not islamophoic. It, however, was highly inappropriate as it ignores all religions except those close to the speaker.

  3. How is it the entirety of this 1,000 word article never even comes close to a discussion of how completely inappropriate it is to have prayer of any kind in a civic forum? Why do we continue to discuss these matters only in the terms dictated by people of faith? With people bickering about what “real” religion is versus “religion twisted to intimidate, discourage or subtly degrade”? Why are we talking about various persons’ beliefs in imaginary beings as if they were remotely sensible or relevant to public affairs?

  4. Maybe we should take a look back in history? What did the founding fathers have in mind as it pertains to religion and government.

  5. She feels that Jesus was used as a weapon against her? Well that’s exactly what the word of God does, it cuts like a double-edged sword through flesh, bone, Soul and Spirit. The word of God is the only spiritual weapon that a Christian has at his disposal and the only one he needs. I praise the representative for her bold dance 4 Jesus Christ she was not afraid to speak the truth that every knee shall bow and every knee will confess that Christ is Lord including Allah. Jesus is the God of Gods, Allah trembles at the name of Jesus. All of the Gentile nations gods tremble and fear the day of the Lord’s Wrath when his judgment comes upon them for their gross mismanagement of the people that they where given authority over. They will pay for the evil that was done in their name by their commands throughout centuries and the innocent blood that has been spilt in worship of these Fallen deities. Lord Jesus Christ returns he will lay waste to all of the so-called gods in the Heavenly realms. America was founded on Christian tenant’s, we do not give any homage or Creedence to Allah or any other God. The god of Abraham Isaac and Jacob sits at the head of American state and Jesus Christ is God In the Flesh and he will not be set aside on a shelf to share Glory with any other being. Let this be a message to all of the Muslims in America you may share our nation with us and we acknowledge your rights and your freedoms to live in America and persue your beliefs. But we will not Bow Down to any other God except Jesus Christ. We will not denounce the name of Jesus Christ under any circumstances, the name of Jesus Christ stands exalted above all creation including Allah. Jesus Christ is the one and only true God and he is returning soon to reclaim his kingdom and claim his bride and he will destroy all ungodliness and all unrighteousness and all evil including the false gods who have weekened the nation’s and colluded with the advarsary . The day of the Lord will be truly terrifying to behold for most and the greatest event and most longed-for for day in history to others including myself.

  6. Too bad. Muslims will need to learn tolerance of the Christian religion, as it is the dominant religion in this country. Go to a Muslim dominated country and try a Christian prayer or anything non-Muslim, and see what that gets you. There is no sane reason to change our lifestyle or behavior to appease people who approve of repression (and much worse) of other religions.

  7. This nonsense is a disgrace and embarrassment to the state of Pennsylvania. If Rep. Borowicz is unable to leave her foaming religious diatribes outside of the halls of government, she has no business holding office. And Rep. Turzai should be ashamed for enabling this embarrassment.

  8. Jesus said…If we do not speak forth our
    praise to Him …while was sent to free us
    and to save us from our sins, Then even
    the rocks will cry out! I have never seen
    such fools, spiritual blindness, hypocracy,
    false accusations, and mean spirit remarks
    from any body of law makers in all of my 70
    years as a proud American citizen! This woman did nothing wrong. What you Democrats are doing is destroying our great
    nation! Blind Fools that you are…full of hate
    for what what is good and RIGHTEOUS!!
    YES…You are letting these people come here, and destroy our way of life!
    Try going to there countries and say a prayer
    like this…with love, thankfulness, and praise
    our Lord there like this…They would drag you
    out into the street!! IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT!!????

  9. Matthew 6 King James Version (KJV)

    6 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

    2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

    3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

    4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

    5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

    6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

    7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

    8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him

  10. Daena, Only problem is most people today do not understand King James. I know exactly what you are saying with that passage but many will not. would you mind breaking it down?

  11. The Constitution states a STATE SANCTIONED RELIGION for all you people who have no idea what it really says. The state did not sanction the prayer. ONE 6th century, Christian hating, USA hating woman made it an issue.
    I am offended by the obnoxious disturbance of my peace by the muslim call to prayers five times a day but they can disturb the peace in every major city.
    If you do not like our MAJOR religion or our country don’t let the door hit you in the butt.
    You’re a VISITOR here if you have never assimilated, no matter if you were born here or not.
    And before you start on me, your opinion means zero to me.
    Let the civil war begin again.

  12. Whiny christians at it again. Can’t stand that a non-christian got appointed to office, so she JUST HAS to throw a public hissy-fit about it on the public’s dime.
    Shameful & embarrassing

  13. She is not a Muslim in the truest sense, I have lived in Saudi, Egypt ect… Only the ignorant get offended, those of any religion who act out and attack other are not firm in their beliefs and only use their relgon as a weapon of division.

  14. Here’s from Fox news:
    “State Rep. Jason Dawkins, another Muslim lawmaker, opened the session Tuesday by reading from the Quran, prompting applause in the chamber.”
    Did you get that? Christian prayers are “divisive” and “Islamophobic,” while Islamic prayers should be celebrated!
    Are you getting the message, America? Anything not Islamic will be deemed “Islamophobic” and will be banned or outlawed in a few short years unless we stop catering to these barbarians on the left.
    We have Freedom OF Religion in America, meaning we are free to worship how we want… if you cannot handle a Christian or Jewish prayer, get the F out!

    BTW, It makes no sense that liberals should love islam, until you realize that they hate America, and as such, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
    I got news for you Democrats: the crocodile of islam will NOT eat you last.

  15. this quote from the article is highly misleading “By saying that Jesus is “our only hope” and by willing “every knee” to bow to a Christian god, Borowicz delivered a message that excluded not only Muslims but also Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, and Native Americans who follow indigenous traditions, Bender said.”

    The reality is there are ex-muslims, jews, sikhs, hindus, and native americans who have humbly decided to accept the King of kings, Yehusha Ha’Massiach, Jesus Christ, into their hearts and life.

  16. Religion is a personal matter and does not belong in the commons, and it certainly does not belong in government!

    The obvious bigotry of Borowicz and her supporters, their willful ignorance and truly mean spirited exclusionary elitist behavior, should serve as an example of what happens when there is a lack of accountability in government. tRump has emboldened people like Borowicz to feel entitled to show their bigotry publicly as if it were something to be proud of. When you allow a racist psychopath to be president you get people like Borowicz spewing ignorant hateful speech.

  17. I’m more upset she walked out on this hard-working woman being sworn in!!!!
    That was so disrespectful and it’s sad she comes from my district. We aren’t paying her to be nasty to other people. Walking out on someone is terrible.
    Also she loves Devos and I cannot understand why the woman is trying to cut funding for disabled children schools.
    I’m OK with praying but I don’t understand why she’s thankful for a politician? we as people God created were made with the power of choice and he chose to be a politician so why is she thanking God that he’s a politician that was his choice not God and all politicians do good and bad things not some so I’m not sure why she is so thankful that he’s a politician

  18. Rep Borowicz has our complete support. It’s too bad we don’t live in her district. Keep up the good work Rep Borowicz, May God Bless you

  19. Nothing the least bit islamophobic at all about that prayer. We have the same freedoms they do only thing is these days their prayers and religion are protected at all costs here in the US and Christians and the church are attached publically from all sides. She prayed to the only hope the US and the world has – Jesus Christ. Leave her alone folks, leave her alone.

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