Mayor Eric Adams said Sunday that religion and government should not “interfere” with one another, but pointedly declined to say that they should be “separate.”
The comments came during an appearance Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union with Jake Tapper & Dana Bash,” after a week of controversy following the mayor’s remarks at a Feb. 28 interfaith breakfast. At the breakfast, the mayor argued that his faith cannot be separated from his governing, positing “don’t tell me about no separation of church and state.”
Adams proclaimed that God himself had chosen to make him New York’s mayor, and subsequently declared himself a “servant of God.” The mayor also raised eyebrows when he stated that “when we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools.”
Amid prodding by CNN’s Bash on Sunday, the mayor initially dodged the question.
“The last words I said after I was sworn in is, so help me God. On our dollar bill, we have, in God we trust. Every president touched a religious book when they were sworn in except for three,” Adams said. “Faith is who I am and anyone who takes those words are stating that I’m going to try to compel people to follow my religion.”
After Bash followed up, the mayor finally said that the two prongs of church and state should not “interfere,” but still didn’t say they should be separate, putting forth that his faith was central to his governing.
“Government should not interfere with religion, religion should not interfere with government. That can’t happen and it should never happen,” the mayor said. “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.”
Adams’ remarks at the breakfast, seemingly dismissing a fundamental constitutional principle, have proved controversial. Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union said that the mayor needs a “refresher” on the First Amendment, which among other things guarantees freedom of religion.
“On matters of faith, the Mayor is entitled to his own beliefs,” Lieberman said. “On the Constitution, he must uphold his oath.”
The mayor’s incorporation of his faith also ran afoul of some progressive faith leaders, who at a City Hall rally on Friday said the pious pol isn’t acting as a “servant of God” by slashing education and social service spending in his executive budget.
“You’re saying you serve God? Does that include defunding pretty much every city agency that isn’t the NYPD,” asked Rabbi Abby Stein of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. “Is that what serving God means to you?”
Since budgets are “moral documents,” the mayor should abandon the cuts, the religious leaders said.
“The separation of church and state is fundamental to a thriving democracy, and New Yorkers deserve a mayor and an administration who reflects the rich and vast religious diversity of this city,” said Reverend Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft, a minister at Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village. “Moreover, budgets are moral documents, and as such, I adamantly oppose budget cuts to public libraries and schools, among many of the other necessary social services that have been slashed.”