On Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams turned some heads with comments he made earlier this week at the city’s annual interfaith breakfast. “Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state,” he said, referring to school prayer and the role religion should play in government. “State is the body. Church is the heart. You take the heart out of the body, the body dies.”
Adams’s address to the crowd of faith leaders at the New York Public Library prompted questions as he seemed to fully reject the idea of a separation of church and state and, on Thursday, he defended his words as an expression of his own personal beliefs.
At the prayer breakfast, he drew a direct link between his personal faith and his role leading the city, saying that he couldn’t “separate my belief because I’m an elected official” and that he puts policies into effect with a “God-like approach.” The mayor also seemed to allude to the Supreme Court’s 1962 decision banning prayer in schools, stating, “When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools.”
Reaction to Adams’s words came swiftly. Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, issued a statement suggesting that the mayor may require “a refresher on the First Amendment.”
“On matters of faith, the Mayor is entitled to his own beliefs. On the Constitution, he must uphold his oath,” she said.
During an unrelated press conference on Thursday, Adams seemed to make light of the situation, taking a moment to bow his head before taking questions from the media. “Just wanted to say a silent prayer so God can give me the patience to answer these questions,” he said with a laugh.
On the topic of prayer in schools, Adams suggested that he wasn’t calling for a change to the law, but rather expressing his own feelings on the matter.
“I didn’t talk about prayers in school. There are clear rules about prayers in school. I don’t have the power to change that. I just gave you my belief. My belief,” he said, suggesting that children in the city could benefit from the introduction of some form of spirituality into their lives.
Regarding his words on the separation of church and state, Adams pointed to instances of religion in everyday American life, from officials being sworn in on religious texts to dollar bills reading “In God We Trust.”
“What I was trying to say is that we need to stop pretending that this is not a country that believes in faith,” he continued.
As for those who don’t identify with any particular faith? Adams said he has no problem with that.
“And people don’t have to agree with me. If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. If you want to be an atheist, that’s fine,” he said. “But those who believe in faith, because I’m calling for all of us to do something I believe we need to do. It’s time to pray. And I’m hoping that we start embracing each other, diversity and faith.”
Adams continued, “I don’t know how one walks away that I’m trying to force people who don’t believe in God to believe in God. I’m telling you what I believe.”