Ambulance (Source: Unsplash)

Conservative Group Seeks To Reverse California City’s Ban On Chaplains For First-Responders

Ambulance (Source: Unsplash)
Ambulance (Source: Unsplash)

The conservative legal aid group that successfully helped a Catholic fraternal men’s group repeal a federal ban on Memorial Day services in national cemeteries is now calling on a California city to allow chaplains for first responders to pray “in Jesus’ name.”

According to the First Liberty Institute, Carlsbad, California, City Manager Scott Chadwick told J.C. Cooper, a local pastor who has served as a volunteer chaplain for the city’s police department for six years, that he could no longer end invocations at city events with the words “in Jesus’ name.”

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Chadwick implemented the rule after a City Council member claimed to be offended and complained when Cooper offered the invocation at an event in March.

Shortly thereafter, the police chief told Cooper he could no longer use those words during an invocation. The fire chief delivered the same message to Cooper’s father, Denny, who has served as the fire department’s volunteer chaplain for 18 years.

When the police department wanted J.C. to give the invocation at its annual awards banquet, he was told that he would be subject to discipline if he said “in Jesus’ name,” FLI reported last week. The city manager then told Cooper that he could refer to any other name for God, just not “Jesus.”

J.C. declined to go along and skipped the event, saying the directive violated his religious faith.

FLI said this order violates both J.C.’s faith and the Constitution. FLI also called on the City Council “to revisit the decision to censor the Chaplains’ prayers,” FLI Counsel Kayla Toney wrote.

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“Dating back to the Continental Congress in 1776, the United States has a robust and widely recognized tradition of both public prayer and chaplain programs,” she wrote. “The [U.S. Supreme] Court has explicitly held that governmental bodies may begin their meetings or other events with a prayer or invocation. While such prayers or invocations may not proselytize or disparage other faiths, chaplains do not have to scrub their prayers of language identifiable to their faith.”

“It is legally problematic—and sends a message of hostility—to equate simple expressions of faith to workplace harassment,” Toney concluded. “The City Council should follow the Supreme Court’s clear statements with respect to prayers such as the Chaplains’ and allow them to pray according to their sincere religious beliefs.”

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FLI was in the news last month after it fought the Biden administration’s order to block the Knight of Columbus, a Catholic men’s group, from holding a Memorial Day service for veterans in a national park in Virginia, despite a tradition of doing so that dated to the 1960s. The administration claimed the event constituted a “demonstration.”

The National Park Service relented and permitted the service after Virginia’s Republican attorney general sided with FLI and the Knights.

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