Did Eric Adams Trash the Separation of Church and State in Government?
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, ostensibly a Democratic Party member, used an interfaith breakfast event on February 28 2023 to dismiss the idea of separation of church and state within U.S. politics and cast himself in a theocratic light.
Chris Sommerfeldt of the New York Daily News first posted Adams’ remarks to Twitter:
Adams says Lewis-Martin is “so right” about the fact that church should not be separated from state.
“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,” he says.
— Chris Sommerfeldt (@C_Sommerfeldt) February 28, 2023
Adams’ office later posted a transcript of Adams’ remarks:
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. 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. And I was that when I was that third-grader, and I’m going to be that when I leave government. I am still a child of God and will always be a child of God and I won’t apologize about being a child of God. It is not going to happen.
The mayor was introduced by advisor Ingrid Lewis-Martin, who told attendees that the city had “an administration that doesn’t believe” in the concept — a belief that as Sommerfeldt’s newspaper pointed out runs directly counter to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
The clause holds that the U.S. shall make no laws “respecting an establishment of religion,” a principle derived from the teachings of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote that there must be “a wall of separation between church and state” in society.
A spokesperson for Adams’ office told the Daily News that the attendees, who practiced a multitude of faiths, “understood what the mayor meant.” But at least one attendee, Rabbi Abby Stein, claimed otherwise:
“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.”
Having grown up in the Hassidic community before leaving it as an adult, Stein said Adams’ speech struck her as “unhinged and also very dangerous.”
“When elected leaders start calling their beliefs more important than serving the people, that’s very dangerous,” she said. “I’ve personally seen what happens when people use God, or their conception of God, to control people.”
At one point in the speech, Adams also floated a right-wing talking point — “When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools” — which is often used after mass shooting attacks.
The breakfast was held just over a month after Adams said that the city had no more room for immigrants from South America in response to the displacement of immigrants by right-wing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Adams, and reportedly went so far as to ask U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration for help.
At a similar interfaith event in 2022, Adams claimed that while working as a state lawmaker and Brooklyn borough president, he believed he would become the city’s mayor.
“God told me, ‘Eric, you’re going to be mayor,'” Adams said at the time.
When pressed by CNN presenter Dana Bash during an interview on March 5 2023, Adams backtracked slightly.
“Government should not interfere with religion, religion should not interfere with government,” Adams told her. “That can’t happen and it should never happen. But my faith is how I carry out the practices that I do and the policy, such as helping people who are homeless, such as making sure that we show compassion in what we do in our city. Government should never be in religion, religion should never be in government. And I hope I’m very clear on that.”
The interview aired a day before the Washington Post newspaper reported that Adams is part of a “national advisory board” of Democratic Party officials tapped by U.S. President Joe Biden to act as his surrogates as part of a prospective 2024 re-election campaign.
Update 3/6/2023, 12:36 p.m. PST — Updated to reflect follow-up comments from Adams on March 5 2023. — ag