NYC Mayor Includes Atheists at Interfaith Breakfast

January 7, 2010


On December 31, 2009, for the first time ever, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg welcomed representatives of NYC’s atheist community to his annual interfaith breakfast.  The Mayor addressed the non-religious delegates specifically, stating: "I also want to welcome, for the first time, those who don’t profess a faith but who do love our city."

According to the New York Times , Nazli Parvizi, the mayor’s commissioner of the Community Affairs Unit, decided to invite the nonbelievers because she was inspired by her own sense of fairness, as well as by the prominent reference to America’s nonbelievers in President Obama’s inauguration speech.  Ms. Parvizi, who is herself an atheist, told the Times: "I always do my best to make sure every group is represented . . . I guess all these times I’ve ignored my own religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs, and so we reached out to atheist societies."

Parvizi further elaborated: "We reach out to clergy all the time, and the point is these are groups of folks who are really trusted by the community . . . It’s not about a religious message; it’s about a message in community-building."  According to Parvizi, none of the religious guests at the breakfast seemed to mind the atheists’ involvement.

Cosmopolitan New York City, with its bustling mix of creeds, cultures and ethnicities, is often recognized as an exemplar of the social melting pot.  At the same time, New York has often been at the forefront of changes in national cultural trends.  Mayor Bloomberg’s embrace of the community of nonbelievers could be dismissed as a quirky occurrence in an exceptional American city.  Then again, it might be the sign of a welcome change in American political life.