Politicians are often criticized for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time that's taken the wrong way. But state Representative Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia) is being criticized for what she refused to say.
The drama unfolded at what was billed as a non-controversial House State Government Committee meeting Wednesday morning. Republican Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) asked Josephs to lead the group in the Pledge of Allegiance; a rather routine request that became anything but when Josephs refused.
"Based on my First Amendment rights and based on the fact that I really think it's a prayer. I don't pray in public," she said as lawmakers were standing to recite the Pledge.
After an awkward moment, Metcalfe quickly called on another member to lead the group.
Afterward, Josephs was unapologetic. She said she was about 14 years old when Congress inserted the words 'under God' into the Pledge. She insists that makes it a prayer.
"How many years ago was 1954? I have not said the Pledge of Allegiance since and I will not say it into the future unless they take those words out and make it less of a prayer," Josephs said.
Metcalfe concedes it is Josephs' right to not say the Pledge. He just thinks it's wrong.
"I think it is shocking that any elected official would not pledge allegiance to the flag," Metcalfe said. "It's a person's right to not say the pledge, but I don't believe anybody should be in elected office that holds that position and I think a majority of Americans wouldn't elect somebody if they held that position."
As with most issues, Josephs has a completely different take.
"Especially if you're in elective office and you're invoking the name of God all the time; to me it's the height of hypocrisy. I will not do it," she said.
There are some around the Capitol questioning Metcalfe's motives. He was well aware of Joseph's stance on the Pledge and publicly called on her to lead it anyway. Why?
"The man's inscrutable to me," Josephs said. "I don't know what he's so angry about. I don't know why he's so angry at me. I don't get the whole thing. Ask him!"
"I have had members say the Pledge at every meeting over the last two years," Metcalfe said. "I've never asked the minority chair to lead it. It was an opportunity for her to say the Pledge. If she chose not to it's on her."
But Metcalfe admitted that he was aware that Josephs didn't say the Pledge when he asked her to lead it. It is perhaps the final skirmish in the ongoing battle between two of the House's most polarizing members.
Josephs lost her primary in April and only has a few session days left in her 28-year career as a lawmaker.
When given the opportunity to make nice to a retiring colleague, Metcalfe didn't seize it.
"I'm glad that she's retiring," he said.