What to Know
- State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, Republican lawmaker from north-central Pennsylvania, upset fellow lawmakers with a fervent Christian prayer.
- Pennsylvania's first Muslim woman elected to state office described Borowicz's prayer as "blatant" Islamophobia.
- Borowicz said she was simply praying as she always does.
The Pennsylvania lawmaker who delivered a controversial prayer before a legislative session Monday that sparked backlash for its numerous references to Jesus, Israel and political leaders said she won't apologize.
"There was definitely some pushback to my prayer," Rep. Stephanie Borowicz said on a radio program of the American Pastors Network on Thursday. "But again, I stand by it. I don't apologize. And it was a privilege."
In her prayer, the Republican from north-central Pennsylvania went on for nearly two minutes — talking about Jesus, Israel, Gov. Tom Wolf, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln — before another lawmaker yelled something from the audience. The House Speaker then tapped her on the shoulder, and Borowicz finished the prayer.
The Christian invocation came the same day Pennsylvania's first Muslim woman was sworn into state elected office. Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, a Democrat from Philadelphia, officially took office shortly after the Borowicz's prayer. About 50 friends and family members, many who are also Muslim, were in the audience.
"It blatantly represented the Islamophobia that exists among some leaders — leaders that are supposed to represent the people,” Johnson-Harrell told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star news site.
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A fellow Philadelphia lawmaker, Rep. Jordan Harris, said Borowicz's prayer "weaponized" religion.
On Thursday, Rep. Kevin Boyle introduced a resolution "urging members of the House of Representatives who have the opportunity to offer a prayer in the course of a legislative session to craft a prayer respectful of all religious beliefs."
The Democrat who represents parts of Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County said "at bare minimum, anyone who does lead a prayer in the Statehouse should be respectful and inclusive."
"I walked out, probably halfway into it," Boyle, a Catholic, said. "I thought it became so highly over-the-top. Not just over-the-top about Christianity, it became quite political also."
Boyle, who has been in the legislature since 2011, said he's heard many prayers delivered before the start of House sessions in his eight years.
"There is not a prayer that comes anywhere close to this prayer, in terms of in-your-face Christianity," he said.
The tradition of a prayer at the beginning of House sessions dates back to before the Civil War. In fact, from 1865 until 1994, the House had a full-time chaplain. Later, a part-time chaplain gave opening invocations. In recent years, guest religious leaders gave the opening prayer. Now, the ritual is done by lawmakers themselves.
There are no official guidelines for the prayer in the House's "General Operating Rules." The only reference to it comes under Rule 17: Order of Business.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Mike Turzai told NBC10 in an email that "any Member of the House may volunteer to offer the opening prayer and Members who volunteer are scheduled, based only on availability of session days."
"Previously, we had given guidelines to invited guest chaplains, encouraging them to offer an inter-faith prayer and to also refrain from making any political statements," the spokeswoman, Christine Goldbeck, said. "The Members who volunteer to offer the opening prayer are advised of the same."
Turzai reiterated that message to lawmakers following Borowicz's prayer, Goldbeck said.
Last year, a federal judge rejected Turzai's practice of refusing non-believers the chance to give the opening invocation before House sessions. House Republicans, who control the chamber, said they would appeal the ruling.
Borowicz told radio host Sam Rohrer, who is president of the American Pastors Network, that the prayer she gave in the State Capitol is one she says every day of her life.
"To have the privilege, no matter who was standing out in the crowd, Christians, Muslims, I don’t — like (Christian evangelist) Franklin Graham said today — we don’t change who we are standing in front of different groups," Borowicz said. "I prayed as I always did."
Rohrer, who represented parts of Berks and Lancaster counties for 18 years in the state House of Representatives, said in an interview with NBC10 after the radio show that Borowicz's prayer was in line with Judeo-Christian world views.
"While most people are looking and saying what’s wrong with that prayer, we turn it around and say what’s right with the prayer," Rohrer said. "I think when we see the kind of opposition to that, that’s very recent. You go back a few years, maybe, and no one would have a problem with that prayer. So the question is: What’s changed, the prayer or our culture?"
Borowicz said she has prayed to Jesus with such passion since she was a little girl. The lawmaker's husband, Jason Borowicz, is an associate pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania.
Calls to the church and emails to church leaders were not returned.
"My sister calls me everyday and we try to pray together every day after I read the Bible," Rep. Borowicz said on the radio program. "We pray for our nation. We pray for our president. We pray for our leaders. The same thing. We pray for Israel. The same things that I prayed for on stage. I had no idea it would cause controversy. It wasn’t directed at anyone."