State Sen. Dave Lawson, R- Marydel, called Wednesday’s prayer “despicable.”
As the State Senate came into session Wednesday afternoon, Imam Tarik Ewis and Dr. Naveed Baqir of Tarbiyah Mosque in Newark were asked to lead lawmakers in their daily prayer with a reading from a portion of the Quran.
As the two men were introduced, Republican Senators Dave Lawson and Colin Bonini, R-Dover South, left the chamber. “Give this assembly the courage that is necessary to lead our state towards more just and peaceful state,” Imam Ewis said as he read the prayer. “We acknowledge that you are the better protector of them, their kin, the rich and the poor, and that you are well acquainted with everything they do.”
After the prayer, Lawson and Bonini returned, and Lawson spoke out against the prayer. “I take great exception to that. I fought for this country, not to be damned by someone that comes in here and prays to their God for our demise. I think that’s despicable.”
Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall Long immediately apologized to Lawson if there was an offense, but later in the session, Senate Pres. Pro- Tem David McBride, D- Hawk’s Nest, said staying silent would make him complicit with Lawson’s comments.
“To criticize the sacred prayer of another religion from the floor of the senate strikes me as in conflict with everything that we stand for as lawmakers,” McBride said. “Each of us who are elected to this esteemed body are elected to represent all Delawareans and as such, we have a responsibility to stand on this floor to let our words and actions reflect that trust.”
McBride said he’s never been one to try to censor other lawmakers, but he said words have consequences. “Muslim Americans fulfill critical roles in our community…They work inside this very building, the public’s building,” McBride said. “I am offended that our guests from the Muslim community today…would feel anything less than welcomed with open arms.”
McBride said he was hopeful that lawmakers could move past Wednesday’s incident. “Treating others with respect, kindness and an open mind and open heart should not be up for negotiation in this chamber.”
Sen. Bonini, who walked out with Lawson, then tried to explain the reasons behind his action. Bonini said his decision to leave was an exercise of his religious freedom, just as the Muslims leading the prayer were exercising their rights. “Religious freedom is not a one way street, it is a very busy intersection,” Bonini said. “I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to offend anybody.”
He added that standing for the Muslim prayer would validate the actions of Muslims around the world when it comes to the lack of rights afforded to minorities and others in Muslim countries. “Expecting us to validate that is unreasonable,” Bonini said. “You have a right to pray, as do I. And I have a right to be offended by what you believe, and you have a right to be offended by what I believe.”
Bonini said his actions were not specifically meant to be disrespectful to the men from the Newark mosque.