Press Releases

Carlsbad, California Official Orders Police and Fire Chaplains to Stop Praying “In Jesus’ Name”

May 28, 2024

News Release
For Immediate Release: 5.28.24
Contact: John Manning,
Direct: 972-941-4453

Carlsbad, California Official Orders Police and Fire Chaplains to Stop Praying “In Jesus’ Name”
Chaplains told that invoking Jesus’ name in his prayer is harassment and creates a hostile work environment.

Carlsbad, CA—Today, First Liberty Institute sent a letter to the Carlsbad (CA) City Council urging them to revoke the recent order by the city manager that forbids police chaplain JC Cooper and fire chaplain Denny Cooper from concluding prayers at some events “in Jesus’ name.”  The Coopers were told the prayers were a form of harassment.

You can read the letter here.

“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,” said Kayla Toney, Counsel for First Liberty.

JC Cooper is a local pastor who has faithfully served as a volunteer chaplain for the Carlsbad Police Department for six years. His father, Denny Cooper, has served as the volunteer chaplain for the Fire Department for 18 years. JC and Denny provide support, encouragement, and prayer to first responders as they face traumatic situations. When asked by the police chief to give the invocation at the Carlsbad Police Department Awards Ceremony, JC concluded his prayer, consistent with his long-held beliefs, “in Jesus’ name.” He was later told by the city manager that unless he removed “in Jesus’ name” from his invocation, he would be subject to discipline. He was then told that he could refer to any other name for God, just not “Jesus.”

The letter from First Liberty says, “The City Manager misunderstands the law concerning public chaplains and invocations, and we urge the City Council to revisit the decision to censor the Chaplains’ prayers. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause does not require government “to purge from the public sphere anything an objective observer could reasonably infer endorses or partakes of the religious.” Kennedy v. Bremerton Sch. Dist., 597 U.S. 507, 534–35 (2022). In Kennedy, the Supreme Court overruled the long-criticized “endorsement” test established by Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). Instead, “the Establishment Clause must be interpreted by reference to historical practices and understandings.” Kennedy, 142 S. Ct. at 2427–28 (cleaned up).”

First Liberty offered to assist the Carlsbad City Council in developing a constitutionally appropriate chaplain policy.

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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
To arrange an interview, contact John Manning at or by calling 972-941-4453.

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