New York City Mayor Eric Adams had made it clear that he’s no fan of separation of church and state.
During an interfaith event last year, Adams recycled the hoary claim that a lack of mandated prayer in public schools is the source of many problems, remarking, “When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools. Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state. State is the body, church is the heart. You take the heart out of the body – the body dies.”
A few days ago, Adams spoke during an interfaith prayer breakfast, and while he refrained from directly attacking church-state separation this time, his remarks weren’t without problems.
State promotion of faith
Chiefly, Adams seems to think government has some role to play in people’s spiritual lives. You can’t listen to him for even a few minutes without getting the impression that Adams believes that the type of problems municipalities often face would evaporate if folks would just get down on their knees.
Referring to things that give him strength, Adams asked, “What is your source? What are you plugged into? Are you plugged into a foundation of faith, or are you looking over and realize that you’re not plugged into anything? Because it doesn’t matter the language, it doesn’t matter your origin, it doesn’t matter where you are from. If you are plugged into a source of faith, you will be able to accomplish the task.”
During his remarks, Adams tossed a few bones to Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders in the city. He didn’t bother to acknowledge the residents who may be non-religious. Yet, I suspect that New York City, with a population of 8.5 million people, harbors a few folks who have no religious faith. Adams didn’t just offer them nothing; his remarks insulted them, implying that without faith, you can get nothing done.
‘Demonic energy’ engulfing the world
Adams went on to assert, “There is a demonic energy that has engulfed our globe. And we are so ashamed to talk about it. We’re seeing it in front of us, and we say if we mention it, people are going to say, well, why are you talking about these spiritual things? It is the spiritual things that got us here. It’s going to be the spiritual things. Things that’s going to sustain us while we’re here.”
That’s a lot to unpack. Let’s begin by pointing out that many people, even plenty of believers, would dispute the fact that demonic energy is running amok. But, assuming Adams really does believe that, we are forced to confront a troubling question: What, exactly, does that mean for him as mayor of our nation’s largest city? What does he believe he is charged to do about it?
Perhaps the reason people get nervous when elected officials start spouting off about “demonic energy” and such is that they know what’s likely to come next: some type of crusade to fight the demons. Exactly how is the government, which, in New York City and elsewhere, is legally required to be secular, going to battle these “demons”? Any history of the Middle Ages will provide an answer to that. (Spoiler: It doesn’t work out well.)
Faith vs. gun violence
Adams also announced “a $1.5-million initiative with our faith-based community” to prevent gun violence citywide. He did not provide any details, but, given Adams’ track record and proven inability to separate his religious life from his political office, Americans United will be watching.
Mayor Adams, Americans United has some advice for you: Stop obsessing over where, when, how and if New Yorkers worship and instead focus on the issues that you were elected to address – and remember those are wholly non-religious in nature.
Photo: New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Jason Mendez/Getty Images