Religious Minorities

A Legislator In Pennsylvania Has Introduced An Offensive Prayer Day Resolution. Lawmakers Should Denounce It.

  Rob Boston

President Donald Trump proclaimed March 18 a National Day of Prayer in response to the coronavirus pandemic. That was a misguided move. As we noted at the time, mixing religion and government won’t protect anyone from the virus.

Now a legislator in Pennsylvania has proposed another resolution calling for prayer that’s even more offensive because of the way it’s worded.

State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, a Republican who represents parts of Clinton and Centre counties, has introduced House Resolution 835 that would designate March 30 as “A State Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer” in Pennsylvania.

The resolution is littered with offensive Christian nationalist language, among those a declaration that “The House of Representatives devoutly recognizes the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations” and a call for the state to “recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history: that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”

It goes on to urge Pennsylvanians to “abstain on that day from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.”

But hands down the worse passage is this one: “May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of the pandemic, which now desolates this Commonwealth may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins…?”

In other words, we sinned so we deserve the death and destruction brought about by this pandemic – and all we can do now is beg the fundamentalists’ vengeful deity to mitigate its effects. That may be standard far-right Christian theology, but it’s nothing a state government should endorse. Not only does language like that offend non-Christians and non-believers (and, I am sure, plenty of Christians as well), it goes out of its way to blame innocent people for a worldwide pandemic. It offers a cold shoulder to the more than 850 people in Pennsylvania who’ve been infected with coronavirus, in effect saying, “It’s your own fault. Maybe you should have prayed more.”

Does the commonwealth of Pennsylvania really want to be on record saying that?

Thankfully, some Pennsylvania legislators are pushing back. State Rep. Kevin J. Boyle, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, put it bluntly in a tweet: “I do believe this is the stupidest resolution I’ve ever seen a politician introduce.”

This resolution reflects the worst kind of narrow-minded, exclusionary fundamentalist theology. It is divisive and offensive. Pennsylvania legislators should do more than reject it out of hand: They ought to condemn it.

Photo: Pennsylvania’s capitol building in Harrisburg

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