NYC Mayor’s Comments on Prayer Spark Backlash
New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) sparked a firestorm of backlash for his comments about prayer at an interfaith prayer breakfast in Manhattan on Tuesday. “When we took prayers out of schools," he said, “guns came into schools. ” In addition, he stated, “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.” While Adams’s remarks lack some of the polish we might hope from our political leaders, his remarks are not as radical as some might suggest.
Adams is a longtime Democrat, but that did not protect him from experiencing an onslaught of criticism from leftist activists. Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, accused Adams of spouting “Christian Nationalist talking points.” Donna Lieberman from New York Civil Liberties Union chastised Adams, saying that the government “must not favor any belief over another, including non-belief.”
Leftist activists constantly misuse the phrase “separation of church and state.” The First Amendment prevents the establishment of official state religion, but that does not mean the state must forcibly remove all signs of religion from schools or other public institutions. Yet, that is what many of these leftist activists would like to see. It is interesting to see the Left turn on their own over the suggestion that prayer should be in schools. Of course, Adams is far from a Christian nationalist. He is not trying to establish a theocracy. He merely believes in the power of prayer and thinks that removing prayer from schools has not helped our society. Many religious Americans would agree.
The reality is that America’s youth are struggling. A recent CDC study found that 42% percent of high school students reported feeling persistent sadness. There are likely many reasons for this. Increasing isolation, social media use, consumption of pornography, and lack of a secure identity all plague American teens. Adams is right to also point to lack of prayer and traditions that reinforce biblical truth as factors as well. Putting your faith in God and believing in something bigger than yourself offers meaning in life. If more young people were finding hope in Christ, it’s only natural that the schools would see an impact.
Adams is not the first person to observe a connection between a decline in religious belief and a rise in school violence. Although those on the Left are quick to push for restrictive gun laws after a shooting incident, the root of the problem is much deeper, and policies alone will not address it. In 2019, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins wrote, “The solution to the gun violence plaguing our nation will be found in a willingness to recognize, as did the Founders, that as a people we are dependent upon and accountable to an omniscient God. It is only from such an understanding that morality and public virtue become commonplace, which is essential for freedom.”
In his speech, Adams also recognized God’s role in his life, saying, “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.” While this statement might (understandably) rub Topekans the wrong way, the overarching sentiment of God’s sovereignty in our lives is a Christian one. The American Founders regularly acknowledged providence, which John Piper defines as God’s “wise and purposeful sovereignty.” The last line of the Declaration of Independence poignantly notes that the Founders were beginning their struggle for independence “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”
Western culture is increasingly secular, and overt expressions of faith are now seen as radical. In Scotland, the Scottish National Party’s finance minister Kate Forbes became the center of controversy when she told a reporter that she believed that marriage is between a man and a woman. Despite her respectful speech, she was harshly rebuked by the media and other politicians. But she has her priorities in order. She said, “Politics will pass. I was a person before I was a politician, and that person will continue to believe that I am made in the image of God.”
At the interfaith breakfast, Adams also stated, “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.” Our worldviews, whether secular or religious, will affect the way we look at things, including in the workplace. The mayor said that he cannot ignore his faith just because he is an elected official. He should not have to.
According to his spokesperson, Adams attends a non-denominational church and was raised in the Church of God in Christ. However, he also seems to have adopted certain New Age ideas, including that New York has a “a special energy” because of the rare gems and stones located in the state. In addition, he also collects Buddhist figurines.
Adams is not the most articulate or informed spokesperson for religion, but that does not mean he should be eviscerated by activists and media for expressing his beliefs. The intense reaction against Adams’s comments represents a larger effort to push Christianity out of the public square. Christians should push back against this and defend religious freedom.
Arielle Del Turco is Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of "Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution."