A Defender of Faith Emerges at New York

Mayor Adams articulates a view of religion more aligned than other Democrats with that of the Framers.

AP/Hans Pennink, file
Mayor Eric Adams at the state Capitol, January 10, 2023, at Albany. AP/Hans Pennink, file

The mayor of New York is making waves as a rare Democrat in public office to stand up for religious liberties. Mayor Adams made this position clear yesterday at an interfaith brunch where he described himself as a “servant of God” much to the disappointment of secularists. Most remarkably, however, Mr. Adams stood up for the traditional view of religious liberties, eschewing the view dominant in his party.

“Don’t tell me about no separation of church and state,” the mayor was reported as saying by Daily News. “State is the body, church is the heart. You take the heart out of the body, the body dies.” Hizzoner was promptly pilloried by the left for what liberals see as a violation of the First Amendment. “It is odd that Mayor Adams would need a refresher on the First Amendment,” says the ACLU’s Donna Lieberman.

“The very opening passage of the Bill of Rights makes clear that church and state must be separate,” Ms. Lieberman adds. She’s trying to palm off on our noble public the idea that the First Amendment says something about separating church and state. What it does is prohibit Congress — Congress — from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” Why does she think the Framers worded the sentence that way?

If the Framers’ plan was to deny Congress the power merely to establish a religion, they would have said, “Congress shall establish no religion.” Instead it said, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Scholars have concluded that what it was saying was that not only may Congress not establish a national religion but it may not disestablish religions established by the states, of which there were several.

So it’s Ms. Lieberman and her camarilla who strike us as off point. Neither the word “wall” nor “separation” appears anywhere in the Constitution. Yet this confounded wall was used by the state of Maine to exclude students in a voucher program from attending their choice of a school if their choice was a religious school. It was used by Montana to do the same, as well as the state of Missouri to deny funds for playground safety at a religious school.

In each of these cases, the Supreme Court has struck down the statutes — which it has called  “discrimination against religion.” So Mr. Adams’ remarks meanwhile could start steering his party toward a constitutional path. We once did an informal survey of law firms specializing in religious liberty to ask how many religious freedom cases are alive in our courts. Estimates ran from 200 to several thousand.

Yet we have been unable to find in any of those cases a major Democratic politician siding with the religious party. We might have missed someone. The silence, though, is deafening. It strikes at the heart of New York, where beleaguered chasidic Jews face attacks from the state itself, demanding they educate their children in profane subjects and prohibiting the most orthodox of Jews the right of free exercise.

So congratulations to Mr. Adams for his remarks. He expresses a modern Washingtonian view of religion and citizenship — a positive vision of the role of faith in American life. “When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools,” Mr. Adams said. He reminds us of George Washington’s farewell address, in which he urged the American people to ensure the flourishing of religious life to guarantee the wellbeing of the nation.

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports,” the first president told the nation. “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Washington sought no persecution of secularists. Neither would he brook religious exclusion, and it’s nice to hear the Mayor of New York echo his sentiments.

The New York Sun

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