Senators object to reading of Muslim prayer

Colin Bonini

Dave Lawson

DOVER — A reading of a Muslim prayer on the state Senate floor sparked outrage from some members of the Republican caucus and led to a spat involving several lawmakers Wednesday.

The Senate begins every day with a prayer, and on Wednesday, Tarik Ewis from Tarbiyah Mosque read a portion of the Quran, first in Arabic and then in English.

Sens. Colin Bonini and Dave Lawson walked out during the prayer, and upon return, Sen. Lawson blasted the reading.

“We heard from the Quran that advocates for our very demise and that’s brought into this chamber as a prayer to open this session. I take great exception to that,” he said.

“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.”

The chosen verse calls for staying true to God.

President Pro Tempore David McBride, a Democrat, responded more than hour later after lawmakers finished debating bills.

“I am personally offended that our guests from the Muslim community and anyone else here in the chamber today would feel anything less than welcomed with opened arms,” he said, reading from a prepared statement.

“And for our guests today to be branded as anti-American ones when our First Amendment of our country’s Constitution explicitly guarantees the freedom of religion is both ironic and deeply sad to me.”

The occurrence, hesaid, was a “sad chapter” in the history of the Delaware Senate.

Sen. Bonini came back with a response of his own: “Religious freedom is not a one-way street. It is a very busy intersection.”

Citing poor treatment of women and LGBT persons in Muslim-majority countries, he said listening to the prayer would “validate” that treatment.

“If somebody is offended by the Hail Mary and they don’t want to hear it and they leave the chamber, I wouldn’t be happy about it but I wouldn’t criticize them,” Sen. Bonini said.

Such disputes are relatively rare in the General Assembly. Despite sometimes drastically varying beliefs, Delaware legislators typically get along, at least outwardly.

Wednesday happened to be a particularly contentious day, with heated disagreement not just over the prayer but also on the Senate rules and on a bill creating an independent redistricting commission.

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