Mayor Adams wants ‘some form of spirituality’ for NYC kids to cope with the world
NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday said New York kids desperately need “some form of spirituality” to cope with the world they’re facing.
His remarks came two days after he created a sensation by saying he dismissed the separation of church and state, a right enshrined in the First Amendment.
“We need to find a way to introduce some form of spirituality in our children because they’re not fighting against the seen, they’re fighting against the unseen,” he said during a news conference in the City Hall rotunda. “These poor children are growing up in an environment that is — it is just so painful for them.”
The mayor was responding to a question about whether city public school teachers should lead children in prayer. Days earlier, at an interfaith breakfast, Adams had remarked that “when we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools.”
On Thursday, he categorically denied bringing up school prayer at the breakfast and said he was talking about having children find spirituality outside a school setting.
“I didn’t talk about prayers in schools. There are clear rules about prayers in school,” he said. “I don’t have the power to change that. I just gave you my belief.”
But Adams, who worshiped at the Church of God as a child and talks about his prayer and mediation routine regularly, suggested he could use the power of his office to encourage faith and spirituality in other ways.
“You could have clubs. We could have children visit other houses of worship, as we’re doing with our Breaking Bread, Building Bonds,” he said, referring to the program he began to break down barriers between different identity groups. “We could introduce different groups outside the school setting to have our young people introduced to some form of spirituality. It’s very healthy.”
As with his statements Tuesday, Adams’ comments Thursday drew an almost immediate backlash.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said they “continue to raise concerns that he doesn’t respect the separation of church and state.”
“It is incumbent upon the mayor to draw a sharp line between what the government does and what families and independent entities do with regard to religion and spirituality,” she said. “It is absolutely imperative to keep government out of promoting religion over non-religion or one religion over others. The mayor’s comments don’t seem to appreciate that imperative.”
Adams’ comments represents an extraordinary departure for New York City political culture, where politicians who publicly speak about their faith are often relegated to the margins and where Adams’ two most recent predecessors — former mayors Bill de Blasio and Michael Bloomberg — tended to shy away from talking in such detail about their own religious backgrounds.
Last April, Adams invoked the apostles to justify his policy of clearing away homeless encampments, and he has said God told him he’d be mayor.
Charles Haynes, a senior fellow for religious freedom at the Freedom Forum think tank, said one thing that’s unique about Adams’ rhetoric on school prayer is that it’s more typical of Republicans historically.
“It’s usually played from the right,” he said. “It’s not unusual on the right. But it is unusual on the left.”
In New York City, the conversation about the separation of church and state has alarmed some.
Speaker Adrienne Adams, who, like the mayor, is Christian, took issue with the mayor’s remarks that the two should not be separate.
“I firmly believe in God and do practice, but as an elected official, I have a sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and the laws, so regardless of what I may or may not personally subscribe to spiritually, in my opinion, there is no theist or atheist way to govern,” she said. “The principle of separating church and state is an important one despite my own deep religious beliefs.”
The speaker, who isn’t related to the mayor, suggested there are better things to focus on than lecturing New Yorkers on theology.
“New Yorkers who need housing, jobs, health care, education don’t look to us as elected officials for theology,” she said. “They expect us to manage the city in a way that helps to improve their lives.”
Mayor Adams didn’t seem too fazed by the criticisms, though.
“What I’m saying to New Yorkers — and Americans — let’s stop being afraid that we are people of faith,” he said. “If I would have said mindfulness, everyone would have been alright. But God forbid I say God. And so, can I just say a silent prayer for you?”
That last remark — which was directed at the City Hall news corps — drew laughter from those assembled, the mayor included.