John Brooks | Cases | First Liberty

Meet John Brooks

For eleven years, John Brooks has served the people of Utica, New York as a firefighter and paramedic. Brooks’ commitment to public service follows the example set by his father who served UFD for forty-one years, including thirteen years as fire chief.

Brooks’ service as a firefighter has been marked by heroism and compassion. He is credited with swimming into a canal and diving down into the water to try to find a young girl involved in a car accident, as well as donating personal money to clothe a family who lost everything in a house fire.

Brooks is also a deeply committed Nazirite. In 2014—on the day of the Feast of John the Baptist, another Nazirite—Brooks took a personal vow to God not to cut the hair of his head, among other things, based on instruction in the Biblical book of Numbers.

“The day I took my Nazirite vow was one of the most important days of my life,” said Brooks. “Being forced to cut my hair would devastate me and violate my covenant with God.”

Religious Discrimination Puts Brooks’ Life in Jeopardy

Seven months passed without Brooks cutting his hair when his superior first commented to Brooks that he needed a haircut. The City’s employee handbook allows firefighters to request religious accommodations, yet UFD has denied each of Brooks’ requests. Even though several UFD firefighters have longer hair than Brooks, his superiors demanded that Brooks wear a baseball cap or, more recently, a hair net at all times while on duty. On one occasion, the hair net became entangled with Brooks’ oxygen mask at an active fire scene and forced Brooks to remove his oxygen mask and lose sight of his partner while inside a burning building.

“My hair has never interfered with my job,” said Brooks. “The hair net I was forced to wear, however, was a safety hazard. I have seen the department make accommodations for people of other faiths. I just want to be treated like everyone else.”

First Liberty Legal Action

First Liberty filed an amended complaint in federal court on Brooks’ behalf in October 2017.

In March of 2019, First Liberty Institute announced it has settled a lawsuit with the City of Utica (NY) in favor of Brooks. The City agreed to grant Brooks a religious accommodation and allow him to continue working as a firefighter while adhering to his religious beliefs.

“The city made the right choice to grant Mr. Brooks a religious accommodation,” said Roger Byron, Senior Counsel for First Liberty. “Mr. Brooks just wants to be treated like every other firefighter and be safe.  He is relieved that he will be able to continue to serve his community as a firefighter while also observing his religious beliefs.”

For high resolution video and photo content please click here


News Release
For Immediate Release: 3.1.19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

New York Firefighter Reaches Settlement with City of Utica (NY) Allowing Him to Continue to Serve Community, Adhere to Faith
First Liberty client has served as firefighter for more than a decade

UTICA, N.Y.—Today, First Liberty Institute announced it has settled a lawsuit with the City of Utica (NY) in favor of client and New York firefighter John Brooks. The City agreed to grant Brooks a religious accommodation and allow him to continue working as a firefighter while adhering to his religious beliefs.

“The city made the right choice to grant Mr. Brooks a religious accommodation,” said Roger Byron, Senior Counsel for First Liberty. “Mr. Brooks just wants to be treated like every other firefighter and be safe.  He is relieved that he will be able to continue to serve his community as a firefighter while also observing his religious beliefs.”

Brooks, a devout Nazirite, made a personal vow to God to refrain from cutting the hair of his scalp based on Biblical instruction in the book of Numbers. The Utica Fire Department (UFD) originally refused to grant Brooks a religious accommodation from its grooming standards and ordered Brooks either to cut his hair or wear a hair net at all times while on duty.  The hair net caused a life-threatening safety risk to Brooks when it interfered with his oxygen mask while Brooks was inside a structure fire. UFD routinely allows female firefighters, with identical equipment and job descriptions, to have their hair longer than Brooks’ hair. Last year, Brooks filed an amended federal civil complaint against the City of Utica (NY) for violating federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

Brooks has served with UFD for twelve years, during which time the city has granted religious accommodations to firefighters of other faiths.

“I’m very grateful to First Liberty for all their help,” said John Brooks. “They are a great law firm.  All I ever wanted was for the city to accommodate my religious beliefs and treat me the same as other firefighters with long hair.  I’m thrilled that the city was willing to work with me so I can continue to serve my community.”

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

To download a copy of this release, click here.


News Release – 10/26/17


Additional Video Content

All photos and videos may be used by the working press with the following attribution: “Courtesy FirstLIberty.org”.
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Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel outlines the case – Download

Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel discusses religious discrimination against Brooks – Download

Jeremy Dys, Deputy General Counsel on what Brooks is seeking – Download

B-Roll of John Brooks – Download

John Brooks on why he became a firefighter – Download

John Brooks on his vow to God and the City’s response to his religious convictions – Download

John Brooks on how his employer’s religious discrimination made him feel – Download

John Brooks on how he just wants to be treated fairly – Download


High Resolution photos of John Brooks
File 1 , File 2, File 3, File 4

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