Skip to main content

Chester County Press

Editorial: The wall of protection

04/02/2019 02:37PM ● By Richard Gaw
Last Monday afternoon at the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building in Harrisburg, Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell (D), was sworn in, becoming the first Muslim to be elected to state office in the history of the Commonwealth. It was a monumental moment in the state chamber, but one that will be noted for the history books with an embarrassing footnote, authored by Johnson-Harrell’s new colleague, Rep. Stephanie Borowicz from Clinton County.

Invoking the name of Jesus more than a dozen times, Rep. Borowicz went on a religious bender, declaring herself “Jesus’s “ambassador,” and that Jesus is “the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Great I am,” “the One who is coming back again.” Before an entire chamber, Rep. Borowicz soldiered on, asking God to forgive America for losing its spiritual bearings.

“We’re asking you to forgive us,” she said. “Jesus, you are our only hope,” and, just moments before a Muslim senator was to take her oath to serve Pennsylvania and her district, Rep. Borowicz offered her thanks to President Trump for his support of the nation of Israel. Were she not interrupted by a shout of “I object!” from the chamber, Rep. Borowicz would have very likely continued.

House Whip Jordan Harris said “prayer was weaponized from the speaker’s dais.” Gov. Tom Wolf told The Associated Press that he was “horrified” by the invocation. Rep. Kevin Boyle of Philadelphia called Rep. Borowicz’s comments “a fire and brimstone evangelical prayer that epitomizes religious intolerance,” and immediately introduced a resolution that urges House members who wish to offer an opening prayer in the House that the prayer be “respectful of all religious beliefs.”

Several critics blasted the prayer, calling it a blatant representation of “the Islamophobia that exists among some leaders—leaders that are supposed to represent the people.” When reached for comment, Johnson-Harrell said that she found Rep. Borowicz’s invocation “offensive.”

“To use Jesus as a weapon is not OK, and we cannot weaponize what’s going on with Israel and Palestine,” she said.

While the rhetorical backlash to Rep. Borowicz’s action on March 25 continues to be picked apart by every side of the political and religious spectrum in Pennsylvania and beyond, we believe that Rep. Borowicz’s invocation was not an attempt to drive a wedge into Harrisburg politics, nor was it intended to serve as a weapon to illuminate – and possibly incriminate – Rep. Johnson-Harrell for being a Muslim.

Further, we also believe that while the religious freedoms afforded to U.S. citizens should allow every person his or her own pulpit, Rep. Borowicz chose the wrong podium and the wrong audience and the wrong ceremony on which to share her prayer.

To best explain, consider the well-recognized metaphor of "separation of church and state," a somewhat nebulous but still accepted belief that our politics should not interfere with our religious beliefs, and vice versa. While the U.S. Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," the “separation of church and state” has become the accepted principle in the matters of our government and our religious beliefs -- what Thomas Jefferson referred to as a “wall of separation” that’s been erected in order to protect us.

In a letter written on Jan. 1, 1802 to the Danbury, Conn. Baptists, Jefferson wrote,

 “. . .I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

The biography included on Rep. Borowicz’s website reads, in part: “With an uncompromising belief in the original intent of our state and federal constitutions, Stephanie is deeply committed to protecting our God-given rights and freedoms from intrusive government overreach…”

We are firm in our belief that everyone is entitled to those freedoms. We only wish that Rep. Stephanie Borowicz had invoked the golden rule of our democracy, when choosing to express hers.