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Why is NYC Mayor Eric Adams repeating Christian Nationalist rhetoric?
"When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools," said the clueless mayor
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In what must have been an attempt to oust Rudy Giuliani as the most embarrassing mayor of New York City, Eric Adams told an audience yesterday that church/state separation didn’t matter and that bringing prayers back in school would solve all kinds of societal problems.
Adams was speaking at an interfaith breakfast in Manhattan’s branch of the New York Public Library. And from the moment he stepped in front of the microphone, he denigrated the very idea of religious neutrality by the government. (His speech begins around the 40:40 mark below.)
… “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 beliefs because I’m an elected official.”
He added: “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.”
Obviously, no one was asking him to set aside his own faith while serving as mayor. What Adams did was equate his personal beliefs (which he can hold without consequence) with the role of his office (which cannot promote one religion over another or religion over non-religion).
But even if you let that slide as some kind of rhetorical flourish, Adams made clear how much he wanted religion in public spaces:
“When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools,” the mayor said.
“We are destroying our next generation,” he continued. “We say over and over again: We need to build a world that’s better for our children. No! We need to build children that’s better for our world. And we have to be honest about that, and it means instilling in them some level of faith and belief.”
Since when is Adams getting advised by Christian pseudo-historian David Barton? These are conservative Christian lies getting repeated by the Democratic leader of the largest city in the country.
We never “took prayers out of schools” because kids and adults are still welcome to pray on their own time, as they always could. The only thing that got removed—in the 1960s—was forced Christian prayers. It was the right decision then and it’s appalling that any elected official thinks pushing religion on kids would solve any of our problems today.
More to the point, gun violence in schools didn’t magically begin after those Supreme Court decisions. There was a multi-decade lull between the 1962 Supreme Court decision to end school-sponsored prayers and Columbine in 1999. Adams didn’t bother explaining that because he can’t. There are many factors that explain the rise in gun violence in schools, but removing mandatory prayers from classrooms isn’t one of them.
Adams also denigrated atheists when he pretended faith and belief are ingredients to create children who are “better for our world.” How so? As sociologist Phil Zuckerman wrote in his 2019 book What It Means to Be Moral: Why Religion Is Not Necessary for Living an Ethical Life (affiliate link), atheists often come out ahead on questions of morality:
In terms of who supports helping refugees, affordable health care for all, accurate sex education, death with dignity, gay rights, transgender rights, animal rights; and as to who opposes militarism, the governmental use of torture, the death penalty, corporal punishment, and so on — the correlation remains: The most secular Americans exhibit the most care for the suffering of others, while the most religious exhibit the highest levels of indifference.
What on that list does Eric Adams not support?
Then came the sponge:
No one needs spirituality. If it works for you, so be it, but it’s not necessary to achieve your full potential.
You want a better metaphor? That sponge represents Eric Adams’ faith because it gets nasty quickly and it’s full of holes. (Boom. Roasted.)
The sponge tangent was so bad that even failed presidential candidate and Democratic kook Marianne Williamson dunked on him:
Adams has alluded to his faith in the past. Last year at the same event, he claimed, “God told me, ‘Eric, you’re going to be mayor.’” He’s also visited Ghana for a “spiritual journey” and cited his faith when discussing homelessness policies. Still, it’s jarring to hear him echo the Christian Right in a speech. At a time when we need Democratic leaders to call out the problem with mixing religion and government, Adams was fully embracing the opposite.
His staff wasn’t doing him any favors either, acting like all criticism of the speech was unfair:
Later Tuesday, Adams spokesman Fabien Levy said the mayor isn’t pushing for upending any U.S. laws or principles. Levy also noted that Adams delivered the remarks in front of “hundreds of representatives from a multitude of religions.”
“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,” Levy said.
No one’s misrepresenting Adams. We’re quoting him. Just because he’s not calling for a theocracy doesn’t mean his words won’t be cited in the future by those who do. Maybe people would understand that more clearly if he were Muslim and used similar language instead of Christian. At best, what he said was irresponsible for someone in his position. (Levy isn’t any better. Imagine how little respect you must have for yourself to defend Adams’ comments instead of just admitting he shouldn’t have said those words.)
Americans United for Separation of Church and State President and CEO Rachel Laser denounced his comments yesterday:
“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.
“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.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, also condemned the remarks:
“It is odd that Mayor Adams would need a refresher on the First Amendment,” Lieberman said. “After all, he has sworn to uphold the Constitution more than once, first as a police officer, later as a state representative, and then last year upon becoming mayor. The very opening passage of the Bill of Rights makes clear that church and state must be separate.”
Keep in mind New York City is where we recently learned schools run by Hasidic Jews have utterly failed to educate children with the help of taxpayer dollars. There’s no shortage of faith in those schools, but Eric Adams wishes everyone was more like them.
Adam’s speech is yet another reminder of why government officials shouldn’t be speaking at these “interfaith” events anyway. Earlier this year, dozens of groups promoting church/state separation urged politicians to avoid the National Prayer Breakfast in part because events like those serve as an “active marketplace of Christian nationalism” no matter how often they claim to represent people of all faiths. (In New York City, by the way, about a quarter of residents are non-religious, and they got zero praise from Adams.)
Adams didn’t just walk into an event like that. He was leading the Christian charge. In a city that is known for its diversity, Adams delivered a thoughtless message suggesting his religion—and his religion alone—would make his community a better place. He has no clue what makes his own city tick. Paying lip service to other religions while calling for the infusion of his religion in schools is the sort of idiocy that has led other (more secular) countries to look down on our nation—and with good reason.