Mayor Eric Adams attended the annual interfaith breakfast that was held at the New York Public Library in Midtown on Tuesday, February 28th. Various religious leaders, including imams and rabbis, from across the city attended the event. The breakfast made headlines after the speech Mayor Adams made while in attendance. Mayor Adams bemoaned a general lack of spirituality in the world, claiming that the removal of prayer from the classroom saw the introduction of guns in schools. A major point of contention was his speaking out against the idea of the separation of the state and church.
The Separation of Church and State
“Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state,” Adams said.
“State is the body, church is the heart,” he continued. “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.”
Within the venue where the event was held, murmurs of agreement and applause were heard. While Mayor Adams’ audience was receptive of his words, he was criticized for his comments on the separation of the state and church. The criticism stems from the fact that as Mayor of New York City, Adams took an oath to uphold the Constitution. The Bill of Rights guarantees the separation of church and state.
Criticism of the Mayor’s Words
“In order for our government to truly represent us, it must not favor any belief over another, including non-belief,’’ the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) tweeted. “On matters of faith, the Mayor is entitled to his own beliefs. On the Constitution, he must uphold his oath.”
The NYCLU also released a statement criticizing Mayor Adams. “It is odd that Mayor Adams would need a refresher on the First Amendment. After all, he has sworn to uphold the Constitution more than once, first as a police officer, later as a state representative, and then last year upon becoming mayor. The very opening passage of the Bill of Rights makes clear that church and state must be separate,” wrote NYCLU’s Executive Director Donna Lieberman.
Faith and Politics
Despite the criticism Mayor Adams received, he also saw a more positive reaction coming from other quarters. Joseph Viteritti, a politics professor at Hunter College who spoke with Gothamist, said Mayor Adams’ words should be analyzed contextually, giving regard to the occasion as well as the history of black politicians. According to Viteritti, Black politicians routinely include their faith in their politics. “He’s entitled to be who he is,” Viteritti said. He added that it was always likely the statements the mayor made would get a reaction from people, more so with the political climate in the country.
Mayor Adams’ spokesperson, Fabien Levy, released a statement addressing the matter.
“The policies we make as an administration are rooted in the mayor’s belief in the creator,” Levy wrote in the statement. “The mayor personally believes all of our faiths would ensure we are humane to one another. While everyone in the room immediately understood what the mayor meant, it’s unfortunate that some have immediately attempted to hijack the narrative in an effort to misrepresent the mayor’s comments.”