By MARCY PRIKTUR
“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.”
If you’re like me, when you read this quote, you were shocked and immediately speculated what its source was. You’d be forgiven for first hypothesizing that this quote came from the ignominious Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia who proudly touts the label “Christian Nationalist.” Next, you may consider it to have originated from the newly minted King Charles III. After all, he does bear the title “defender of the faith” in his official capacity as the sovereign of the United Kingdom, implicitly embracing the role of the spiritual leader of the country.
But you would be incorrect! This unsettling declaration was offered by our very own New York City Mayor, Eric Adams.
Mayor Adams articulated these remarks while hosting an annual interfaith breakfast on February 28th. What should have been a celebration of New York City’s historic religious diversity and tolerance, was stained by the mayor’s misguided rhetoric. In addition to dismissing the validity of a longstanding and revered American tradition, he announced, “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.” These comments reveal Adams’ fundamental misunderstanding of his role as the Mayor of New York City. Despite what his messianic delusions may lead him to believe, Adams was not elected to be the spiritual leader of the city. Nor is he burdened with curbing the advancing secularization of American society. New Yorkers elected Eric Adams to his mayoralty to serve the people of this city by executing the laws created by the legitimate legislative process in New York and the American Constitution.
Ironically, the annual interfaith breakfast is made possible in no small part due to the American belief in the separation of church and state that he so flippantly dismissed. Recognizing that America had largely been founded by those seeking refuge from religious persecution, the Founding Fathers enshrined religious liberty in the establishment clause of the First Amendment. As a result, they drastically deviated from the existing quasi-religious relationship that existed between the English Monarchs and their subjects and continues to exist in many parts of the world today.
American politicians are not religious leaders who are divinely chosen to lead their people to the promised land. American politicians are charged with creating a space for their citizens to worship (or not worship!) freely. Taken to the extreme, Adams’ corporal metaphor insinuates that atheists are not welcome under his reign lest the State perish. Impressively, Mayor Adams’ comments both proposed an inherently un-American political and religious order and simultaneously highlighted its acute dangers.
To be clear, I do not deny Mayor Adams his right as a private citizen to worship as he sees fit. Nor do I demand him to “check his faith at the floor” while performing his duties as mayor. As a practicing Catholic, I understand that to be a person of faith, you must strive to act out your faith in all facets of your life. However, I do expect him to have some appreciation and respect for time-honored American civic traditions. And I request that he humbly recognize his position as a civil servant charged with justly enforcing the laws of this great city.
But I won’t be holding my breath.