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HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS/AP) – Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, D-Philadelphia, is calling a prayer service during her swear-in ceremony in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives “divisive and highly offensive,” according to reports. Johnson-Harrell, who is the first Muslim woman elected to the General Assembly, was sworn-in on Monday. But before her swear-in, first year member of the Pennsylvania House, state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, began the day’s session with a Christian invocation that thanked Jesus for the honor and President Donald Trump for standing “behind Israel unequivocally.”
During her prayer, Borowicz says “Jesus” 13 times, “God” six times and “Lord” four times.
“God forgive us,” said Borowicz during the prayer. “Jesus, we’ve lost sight of you. We’ve forgotten you God, and our country. And we’re asking you to forgive us, Jesus,” said Borowicz. “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord.”
Toward the end of her remarks, someone on the chamber floor could be heard shouting in objection. That’s when House Speaker Mike Turzai can be seen tapping Borowicz on the shoulder. Borowicz quickly wraps up her prayer.
Her opening prayer has since drawn complaints that it was inappropriately divisive.
Rep. Johnson-Harrell told the Pennsylvania Capitol Star Borowicz’s prayer was “divisive and 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 Pennsylvania Capitol Star. “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.”
Democratic Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County called Borowicz’s invocation “beneath the dignity of this House” and asked that a group be set up to review the procedure.
Dermody said Borowicz’s invocation stood out during his 28 years in the House.
“Never have we started out with a prayer that divides us,” Dermody said on the floor afterward. “Prayer should never divide us, it should be inspirational.”
His Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County, did not directly criticize or defend Borowicz.
“I, for one, understand that everybody has sincerely held beliefs and I would never ask any one of us as an individual to go against that,” Cutler said.
Borowicz, whose husband is an associate pastor at a Christian church in Jersey Shore, insisted she did nothing wrong.
“Absolutely not,” she said as she headed into closed-door caucus afterward. “I pray every day. I prayed.”
Turzai is currently appealing a federal judge’s decision that halted his policy of preventing nonbelievers from giving the invocations.
Turzai, who decides who will offer the invocations, read for House members the guidance that has previously been provided to religious professionals about keeping their remarks respectful of all religious beliefs and to refrain from commenting on extraneous matters.
Since the court decision last summer, Turzai said, he has opted to have the invocations made by state representatives themselves.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)