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Leftists Don’t Mind NYC Mayor Eric Adams’ Religious Talk Because He Puts Politics First

Adams’ faith raises important questions about reconciling different political opinions that both claim to derive from religious truths.

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New York City Mayor Eric Adams caused quite a stir last week when he questioned the separation of church and state at an annual breakfast of faith-based leaders in Manhattan.

“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,” declared Adams. “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. That’s who I am.” He also asserted: “When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools.”

That’s pretty remarkable, especially coming from a politician who has sought to expand abortion in the Big Apple and who has claimed that if not for a past partner’s abortion, he would not have become mayor of America’s most populous city. “No other city in the nation or in the world has a public health department that is providing medication abortion. … We are the first,” Adams announced at a January news conference. What Adams’ comments indicate, then, is a deep double standard — and pronounced confusion — when it comes to how Americans understand the separation of church and state.

Stacking the Deck Against Religious Conservatives

Adams’ recent statements about religious faith and public service are not all that different from what other Democrats have quite recently argued. During the 2020 Democratic National Convention, former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former First Lady Michelle Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and former President Barack Obama all characterized Biden’s religious beliefs as a motivation and guide for his political career. “I know Joe. He is a profoundly decent man, guided by faith,” said Michelle Obama. 

Biden himself, in 2020, credited his Catholic faith, Pope Francis, and the example of nuns for his career of public service. I don’t remember any liberal or Democratic backlash to that messaging campaign. The problem is that Adams made explicit what Biden and his promoters had communicated implicitly. In doing so, he (unintentionally) gave the game away.

The left doesn’t really have much of a problem with fusing religious belief and politics as long as those beliefs accord with the underlying principles of current liberal ideology, such as those related to abortion, transgenderism, or racial identitarianism. You could even call it “liberal integralism.” Former editor of Commentary Norman Podhoretz called Reform Judaism “the Democratic Party at prayer,” and much the same can be said for mainline Protestant denominations and even some Catholic parishes. Holy Trinity in Georgetown, attended by left-wing elites (and Democratic politicians), displays a Black Lives Matter banner and a rainbow flag outside its building and hosts events to promote so-called diversity, inclusion, and equity — euphemisms for reducing people to their sex and skin color and often using those factors to discriminate against the least-favored groups.

The Double Standard

This is why liberal religious politicians like Adams and Biden are tolerated and, when it serves the left’s purposes, celebrated. Religiously inclined voters can be persuaded that those politicians’ faith makes them “decent” people worthy of their votes. Party elites don’t care if your liberal opinions on abortion, the economy, trade, or foreign policy derive from your religious belief, your parents, your professor, or what you had for breakfast this morning — the important thing is that they are the correct opinions.

Of course, the same thinking doesn’t apply to the right, which is why many liberals describe the pro-life movement (and conservative Christian politicians who support it) as imposing a “theocracy” on America. When conservatives, often informed by their religious faith, decry sexually explicit curricula and the promotion of transgenderism for prepubescent children, they are violating the sanctity of the separation of church and state. Simply put, religiously informed liberal policy is good; religiously informed conservative policy is bad. 

The More Foundational Problem

In one sense, Adams’ recent comments — despite their superficiality and incoherency — were a breath of fresh air. But they also reveal a deeper tension in the body politic: namely, the role of religion in the public square and how to reconcile different political opinions that both claim to derive from religious belief.

America is a pluralist country, a reality that will become ever-more apparent as fewer citizens subscribe to a faith tradition or attend religious services, as recent trends concernedly forecast. But in another sense, America has always been a pluralist nation. This is why the framers — coming from a variety of Protestant traditions, and even including a few Catholics — rejected an established church. Nevertheless, that founding generation, and those that followed, recognized that a lowest-common-denominator recognition of God, absolute truth, and morality was required for the survival of the republic, something Robert R. Reilly explains in his 2020 book “America on Trial.” Appreciating that these truths were accessible to all persons, regardless of their preferred sect, the founders appealed to what they called “natural law.” 

Natural law still remains a way to get us out of our current distemper. Indeed, many prominent political theorists and activists have been arguing as much for generations. Take abortion: Sure, many pro-lifers are motivated largely by their religious belief. But opposition to abortion need not be motivated solely by sectarian opinions but by philosophical, scientific, and medical truths about the human person and his inherent dignity. Non-sectarian words honoring — and praying to — God, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, are also defensible on the grounds of the natural law, and those who do not believe in the divine are free to exempt themselves. George Washington’s prayer at the end of his letter to the Hebrew congregation at Newport, Rhode Island, is an excellent example of such a prayer. 

Moreover, if we cannot identify (and accept) these lowest-common-denominator beliefs informed by natural law, a beneficent, indifferent, secular society will not be our future. Whether we are talking about federal targeting of religious organizations and citizens, forced closures of religious adoption agencies, or medical practitioners forced to perform abortions, Americans have already gotten a taste of the coercive tendencies of a secular regime.

Leftist ideology is anything but neutral, and — if the history of the 20th century is any indication — it can be far more ruthless and authoritarian than anything the world has suffered under a Christian regime.

“I can’t separate my belief because I’m an elected official,” declared Mayor Adams. That much, at least, is true regardless of the officeholder or the belief. The nature of that belief, however, makes all the difference.


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