Residents of New York City, for the most part, take a live and let live approach when it comes to discussions regarding religion. One example of this is when Dan Halloran won a 2009 city council race after making it known that he was a practitioner of a neo-pagan religion known as Theodism. Oddly enough, it seems that despite the liberal attitude that exists in the city that no New York City politicians have been willing to out themselves as being atheist.
Mark Levine, a New York City Councilman, explains that even in what is surely one of the most liberal cities in the country it may come with great peril for a politician to openly identify himself as an atheist. Levine himself identifies with the Jewish faith.
Leticia James, a Public Advocate for the city of New York, echoes the sentiments of Councilman Levine and says that in some constituencies a candidate identifying as an atheist would have serious issues. James’ self-characterization is that of ‘church girl.’
Councilman Ritchie Torres says that declaring oneself to be atheist would definitely hinder a campaign. Torres himself was once a member of the Catholic faith before turning to deism. Deist adheres to the philosophy that the revelation of God comes through nature rather than the manifestation of supernatural phenomenon. The philosophy has a long history in the realm of American politics and was once the faith of choice for the United States President Thomas Jefferson. Torres says that these conversations regarding religious beliefs do not take place among city council colleagues.
Nevertheless, it is undeniable that religion plays an undeniable role in the political landscape of the city. Many city council members are openly religious individuals and some are even pastors. Prayers are invoked before each city council meeting and this practice has been challenged in the past by groups representing secular interests. Despite the protests, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the prayers can be allowed.
Levine says that the prayers have made some members of the council feel uncomfortable at times but no one wants to be the councilmember that openly speaks out against prayer at the meetings.