Why prayers are allowed in government meetings — including the Pa. Legislature

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Movita Johnson-Harrell, shown here while she was the supervisor of the Philadelphia district attorney's Victim/Witness Services unit. An invocation given before Johnson-Harrell's swearing-in to the state House was broadly construed as Islamophobic. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Movita Johnson-Harrell, shown here while she was the supervisor of the Philadelphia district attorney's Victim/Witness Services unit. An invocation given before Johnson-Harrell's swearing-in to the state House was broadly construed as Islamophobic. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Republican Pennsylvania state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz has been under fire after her invocation opening a recent legislative session. Democratic Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell — who was being sworn in that day as the first female Muslim member of the state’s House of Representatives — was particularly offended by Borowicz’s prayer, which she said was exclusionary and politically divisive. The incident has raised the question of why the tradition of prayers in government meetings persists, despite the separation of church and state. Widener University law professor Alan Garfield explains on this episode of The Why.

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