New York

God and Eric Adams: What the mayor got wrong about church and state


Mayor Adams declaring “I walk with God” at an interfaith breakfast Tuesday morning is heartening, as God should inspire. The First Amendment safeguards the free exercise of religion, so it’s perfectly fine for an elected official to be animated by his Christian faith — and to talk about it. Indeed, it was church-affiliated activists who motivated Adams as a young man “to go into law enforcement and fight from within.” If he continues to find daily strength and solace and moral guidance from the words of the Bible, well, God bless him.

However Adams should be wary of using his bully pulpit to declare that creating children who are “better for our world” demands that “we,” a first-person plural noun that coming from him now means city government, necessitates “instilling in them some level of faith and belief.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams host the annual Interfaith Breakfast at the New York Public Library on Tuesday, February 28, 2023.

“Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state,” quoth the mayor. “State is the body. Church is the heart.” This was shortly after saying “when we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools.”

You won’t hear us insist on erecting a high, impenetrable wall between government and faith institutions that bars, for instance, Christmas trees and Chanukah menorahs in public parks, or prevents churches and temples and mosques from getting government contracts to carry out secular work. In that sense, we take the point about separation. So too, Adams can have the personal opinion that godliness is a prerequisite to a good life.

But as the leader of a pluralistic city, he has a higher duty to respectfully serve a population with more than a million Jews, nearly a half-million Muslims, hundreds of thousands of Hindus, and millions of nonbelievers. The 1962 Supreme Court decision that barred public-school-sponsored prayer made good on the same First Amendment’s critical promise that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Besides, Adams’ timeline and logic are off. Schools become unsafe when kids prone to violence get easy access to weapons. Secular values have got nothing to do with it.


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