Controversy over opening prayer on House floor, following swearing in ceremony of first Muslim woman representative

HARRISBURG, Pa.-- Tensions escalated quickly on the House floor on Monday, following a historic swearing in ceremony and an opening prayer that some lawmakers are now calling divisive.

Applauded with overwhelming support from her family and representatives, Movita Johnson-Harrell is the first Muslim woman to be elected to the state house. The focus of the session however, quickly changed during an opening prayer from Clinton County State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz.

"Lord thank you that he stands behind Israel, unequivocally lord. Thank you Jesus that we stand beside Israel and that we ask for the peace of Jerusalem that your word says God," said Rep. Borowicz.

Now that was only a small part of what Borowicz said in the opening prayer. She went on to ask for forgiveness, saying 'Jesus you are our only hope', and that the nation has forgotten Jesus.

Democrat Jordan Harris, a Philadelphia colleague of Johnson-Harrell soon released a statement calling the prayer divisive.

“Today, we saw religion weaponized in the House chamber in what could be considered a gross attempt to intimidate, demean and degrade a Muslim state representative in the presence of her family, friends and guests. 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. Let me be clear. I am a Christian. I spend my Sunday mornings in church worshipping 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. I strongly encourage all members of the House to keep an open mind, be respectful and embrace those with differing beliefs than those that we ourselves have. That’s the least we can do to understand our fellow legislators and find common ground that will allow us to work in a bipartisan fashion. 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. 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.” – Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia.

Representative Borowicz's prayer lasted nearly two minutes before house speaker Mike Turzai tapped her arm to stop. According to Pennlive house democratic leader Frank Dermody, of Allegheny County said the prayer was disturbing to members on both sides of the aisle. He called on speaker Turzai to establish guidelines for the opening prayers.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.