New York City Mayor Eric Adams denied the need for separation of church and state in a speech at an interfaith breakfast Feb. 28.
“Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state,” he said. “State is the body. Church is the heart. You take the heart out of the body, the body dies. I can’t separate my belief because I’m an elected official. When I walk, I walk with God. When I talk, I talk with God. When I put policies in place, I put them in with a God-like approach to them. That’s who I am.”
Adams also suggested prayer is the cure for gun violence, proclaimed that he enacts policies “with a God-like approach” and that the mayor of New York City is “a servant of God.”
Adams is a Democrat who was sworn into office a year ago.
Adams is a Democrat who was sworn into office a year ago. He is a retired police captain and a New York native who has survived various hardships in life and preaches a message of hope for all who feel neglected.
The mayor turned the podium into a pulpit at the interfaith breakfast, and that did not digest well with those who advocate a traditional understanding of church-state separation.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser issued the following statement in response to the mayor’s remarks.
“Mayor Adams’ comments dismissing our country’s foundational principle of separation of church and state are shocking and dangerous,” said Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Our democracy, equality and rights all rely on America’s commitment to separate church and state. That separation is not anti-religion, as Mayor Adams seems to imply. Rather, it is what protects religious freedom for everyone.”
Laser lamented what she called the mayor’s “right-wing, Christian nationalist talking points about prayer solving gun violence. Not only is it simply untrue that prayer alone will end school shootings, but his words ignore the fact that students are free to voluntarily pray in public schools because of the separation of church and state.”
She added: “The separation of church and state guarantees Mayor Adams the right to have his personal religious beliefs. But as an elected official, when acting in his official capacity as mayor, he must be a mayor to all New Yorkers. In New York City — the largest and most religiously diverse city in the United States, where a quarter of the population identifies as nonreligious — the separation of church and state is a necessary shield to protect everyone’s right to live as themselves and believe as they choose.”
Amanda Tyler, executive director of Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said: “These comments from Mayor Adams are extremely troubling. We should expect our elected officials to govern without regard to religion and respect the institutional separation of church and state, which ensures religious freedom for everyone.”
Laser and Tyler were not alone in sounding an alarm about the mayor’s speech. Social media lit up with reactions using common New York City street language not printable by BNG.
Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said: “As a Christian minister living in New York City, @NYCMayor’s ‘God talk’ makes me nervous he is anointing himself with God’s particular favor, which introduces a dangerous spiritual zero-sum game into the politics of the city. Every person has the right to religious freedom, including the mayor. However, I encourage the mayor to stop imagining himself as the servant of God and instead take seriously his obligation to serve the diverse people of New York — people of all faiths and no faith alike.”
The 40-minute, rambling speech given by Adams was laced with religious themes about his childhood, his own church experience, his adversities, his government work.
“I am still a child of God and will always be a child of God and I won’t apologize about being a child of God,” he said. “It is not going to happen. We need to stand up for that. That is what has happened. We need to be that every day.”
He warned against people who have a “spiritual ugliness,” which he said will “show itself from the inside out. And there may be some physically attractive people, but they are emotionally ugly. And you feel their ugliness every day, and mean and nasty.”
He urged New Yorkers to take all the negative news they hear and “wring it out” of their lives like dirty water out of a sponge.
“Today is the day we got to wring it out,” he said. “You are not going to be able to receive the purifications of God’s blessing if you keep your sponge saturated. Some of our souls are so saturated with despair and harm and pain. Today I’m saying to you, ‘Wring it out, wring it out.’ … Before you go to sleep, wring it out. Say a prayer, read a Scripture. Listen to a positive quote. Do something kind for yourselves.”
“When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools.”
Earlier, he said: “When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools.”
Adams also implied that God made him mayor of New York City.
“I strongly believe in all my heart, God said, ‘I’m going to take the most broken person and I’m going to elevate him to the place of being the mayor of the most powerful city on the globe.’ He could have made me the mayor of Topeka, Kansas. He could have made me the mayor of some small town or village somewhere. He stated that, ‘I’m going to take this broken child, this individual who is the epitome of the mistakes a human being can make in a lifetime, and I’m going to elevate him to the most important city in the country.’”
Others should take hope in that knowledge, he said.
“Let me be the living example that God has put in front of us to understand just because you’re dyslexic, arrested, rejected, you still could be elected and be the mayor of the City of New York. That’s only God. That’s not man. That’s only God. And so today we proclaim that this city, New York City, is a place where the mayor of New York is a servant of God.”
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