April 2023 Church & State Magazine - April 2023

NYC Mayor Attacks Church-State Separation During Interfaith Event


New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) attacked separation of church and state and called for formal prayer in public schools during a Feb. 28 speech.

Adams, speaking to an interfaith prayer breakfast, told the crowd, “When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools.” He added, “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.”

Adams, who has previously asserted that God put him in office, boasted that he takes a “God-like” approach to public policies and sees himself as a “servant of God.” 

Prior to Adams’ remarks, Ingrid Lewis-Martin, one of his top advisers, told attendees, “We know in government, many times, it is said that one has to separate church from state, but we have an administration that doesn’t believe in that. We have a mayor, who you will hear from shortly, who is definitely one of the chosen.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 28: Mayor Eric Adams speaks at the Billie Holiday Theatre in Restoration Plaza on July 28, 2022 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn borough in New York City. Vice President Kamala Harris met with community leaders and made an announcement of the formation of the Economic Opportunity Coalition (EOC), a coalition of 24 companies and foundations that will be investing tens of billions of dollars in underserved communities. She also announced new policy initiatives that will help advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s work in supporting Community Development Financial Institutions Funds (CDFIs), small businesses, and community infrastructure. Vice President Harris was joined by Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado, Mayor Adams, SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman, Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves, and Department of the Treasury Counselor for Racial Equity Janis Bowdler.

Mayor Adams: God ordained and no fan of separation (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

While Adams’ remarks were met with applause, some attendees criticized his comments. Rabbi Abby Stein told the New York Daily News that she found the remarks troubling.

“There was a lot of people who were like, ‘No, no, no, no, what is happening? What is he talking about?’” Stein said. “At least half of the room was not with him when he talked about separation of church and state.”

Fabien Levy, mayoral spokesman, later attempted some damage control, remarking, “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.”

Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, observed in a statement, “Mayor Adams’ comments dismissing our country’s foundational principle of separation of church and state are shocking and dangerous. 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.”

She added, “It’s especially disheartening to hear the mayor of New York City promoting 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.” 

 The day after the interfaith event, Adams held a press conference, during which he tried to deny he had advocated for prayer in schools. 

“I didn’t talk about prayers in school,” Adams said. “There are clear rules about prayers in school.”

But as several reporters pointed out, Adams clearly did call for school prayer during the prayer breakfast. 

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