New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ comments yesterday dismissing separation of church and state were nothing short of appalling. Americans United responded to them swiftly.
Adams’ remarks are troubling on many levels. He claimed God put him office (unlikely) and boasted that he refuses to separate his personal religious beliefs from public policy (he should).
But there was one aspect of his comments where Adams really went off the rails. He told the crowd during a prayer breakfast, “When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools.”
I’ve been hearing this statement, or ones like it, for more than 35 years. Usually, it’s uttered by TV preachers or their political allies. To hear the mayor of America’s largest city spout it is unsettling, to say the least.
Religion In Public Schools: The Real Story
The statement betrays great ignorance about what goes on in our public schools. Let’s be clear about this: Nothing in America’s laws or court rulings prevents students from praying in schools. The decision to pray, or not, must be left up to the individual. The prayers must be nondisruptive, and they can’t be sponsored by school officials and forced onto young people against their will.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s rulings in this area in 1962 and ’63, public schools in some parts of the country were sponsoring Christian prayers and readings from the Bible (usually the King James Version) every day. Students were compelled to take part in, or at least listen to, these religious exercises – even though for many kids, they were completely alien to their beliefs.
Public school students at the secondary level may also form religious clubs under certain conditions. These clubs are purely voluntary and are run by students. If a school allows a Christian club, it must also allow Jewish clubs, Muslim clubs, Buddhist clubs, atheist clubs, etc. Equal treatment is the rule.
In addition, public schools may teach about religion as an academic subject and discuss its impact on history, literature and art. The approach must be objective, and teachers should be trained to ensure they’re not proselytizing.
In short, there is plenty of room for religion in public schools – in a non-coercive manner. But forcing or pressuring any young person to take part in worship against his/her will is a serious violation of the Constitution and individual rights. It’s remarkable that the mayor doesn’t know this.
Mandatory Prayer Is Not A Solution
Finally, Adams’ assertion that mandatory prayer is some sort of panacea for serious problems like gun violence is absurd. It’s also a dereliction of duty. As the leader of New York City, Adams is charged with finding solutions to many issues, including gun violence. Forcing religion onto people is not a serious answer.
Americans United plans to reach out to Adams’ office to help him understand why separation of church and state is essential to America. Here’s hoping he takes us up on that offer.