Civil rights groups blasted the mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, after he said he believed God had made him mayor, appeared to support compulsory prayer in public schools and said: “Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state.”
The head of the New York Civil Liberties Union led the condemnation.
“We are a nation and a city of many faiths and no faith,” Donna Lieberman said. “In order for our government to truly represent us, it must not favor any belief over another, including non-belief.”
The mayor made the controversial remarks at an interfaith breakfast at the New York Public Library on Tuesday.
Discussing his rise to power, the former police officer said he “strongly believe[d] in all my heart” that “God said, ‘I’m going to take the most broken person and I’m going to elevate him to the place of being the mayor of the most powerful city on the globe.’ He could have made me the mayor of Topeka, Kansas.”
The voters of New York City elected Adams as mayor in 2021, by a comfortable margin over the Republican Curtis Sliwa and after winning a crowded primary in the solidly Democratic city.
Adams’s time in office has proved controversial, from his approach to tackling crime, homelessness and sanitation, to allegations of nepotism, inconsistent veganism and bizarre remarks about how cheese is addictive.
At the prayer breakfast, Adams also said “When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools” and “Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state”.
He added: “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.”
Lieberman pointed to the US constitution.
“The very opening passage of the Bill of Rights makes clear that church and state must be separate,” she said.
“On matters of faith, the mayor is entitled to his own beliefs. On the constitution, he must uphold his oath.”
An Adams spokesperson said the mayor “personally believes all of our faiths would ensure we are humane to one another.
“While everyone in the room immediately understood what the mayor meant, it’s unfortunate that some have attempted to hijack the narrative in an effort to misrepresent the mayor’s comments.”
Rachel Laser, president and chief executive of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said: “It’s especially disheartening to hear the mayor of New York city promoting rightwing, 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.”
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