Opening prayer sparks controversy as first Muslim woman sworn in to Pennsylvania House

An opening prayer from a Republican lawmaker at the Pennsylvania state House proclaiming her Christian beliefs has drawn backlash as it took place the same day the first Muslim woman was sworn into the body.

During freshman state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz’s (R) opening prayer, she repeatedly praised Jesus and asked for forgiveness for those who have forgotten him, according to a report from Penn Live.


Borowicz’s prayer drew increased scrutiny because it took place right after the House swore in state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell (D), the first Muslim woman to serve in the Pennsylvania House.

Johnson-Harell’s family and friends were reportedly in attendance for the swearing in and the subsequent prayer.

“At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus, that you are Lord,” Borowicz said.

She also thanked Jesus that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments MORE “stands beside Israel unequivocally.”

Johnson-Harrell told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star that 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 to the publication via text message.

House Speaker Mike Turzai (R) appeared to attempt to cut off Borowicz as she was near the end of her prayer.

House Minority Whip John Harris (D) told Penn Live in a statement that Borowicz used her religion and the prayer to "intimidate, demean and degrade” Johnson-Harrell.

“Let me be clear. I am a Christian. I spend my Sunday mornings in church worshiping and being thankful for all that I have," Harris said. “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.”

Following the legislative session, House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody gave a speech on the floor, saying the opening prayer should bring representatives together.

“This morning on a very important day, on a day where we’re swearing in a new member, the first woman Muslim serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in history, there was a prayer that was not meant to inspire us. There was a prayer that was not meant to bring us together," Dermody said, which drew applause from members.

Turzai told Penn Live that when clergy are brought in to give the opening prayer they are asked to make it respectful of all religious beliefs, though those same instructions were not given to House members.

The Hill has reached out Borowicz for comment.