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The First Liberty Institute (FLI) has filed a complaint against the Carlsbad City Council in California after two chaplains were allegedly told not to pray in Jesus’ name anymore. Denny Cooper has served as the volunteer fire chaplain for 18 years. His son, JC Cooper, who is also a local pastor, has been the volunteer police chaplain for 6 years. The complaint alleges that on March 13, 2024, JC was asked to pray at the Carlsbad Police Department Awards Ceremony, where he ended his invocation “in Jesus’ name.” “On information and belief, it is our understanding that a city council member took offense that JC concluded his prayer by invoking Jesus’ name,” wrote the FLI. Mike Calderwood, the fire chief, then informed Denny that the City Manager had declared he would not be allowed to do any more invocations if he did not remove “in Jesus’ name.” The next day, JC was informed by the police department that he could not pray “in Jesus’ name” but could pray in any other name.

Feeling convicted by the request, JC consulted Denny and his lead pastor and declined giving the invocation at the Carlsbad Police Promotions Ceremony, declaring it a denial of Christ if he did not pray in His name. According to FLI, in a subsequent call with City Manager Scott Chadwick on April 25, Chadwick allegedly claimed that praying in Jesus’ name was “harassment, created a hostile work environment, and lifted one religion above another.” The FLI asserted that the request went against the Coopers’ conscience. “Because the Chaplains cannot in good conscience erase the name of Jesus from their prayers, this order deprives first responders of the solace and the spiritual strength that the Chaplains’ volunteer ministry has provided for nearly two decades. Therefore, we urge the City Council to return its longstanding practice of inviting the Chaplains to pray freely in accordance with their sincere religious beliefs,” says the letter.

Attorney Kayla Toney, who wrote the complaint letter, denied the charges of harassment. “Accusing [the Chadwicks] of harassment really was painful for them to receive, especially because they’ve been volunteering their time on top of full-time jobs for many years to serve. The city’s first responders and the police and fire departments have always expressed how much they appreciate the Coopers and how much they value that ministry,” she said. “Our goal here is really to equip the city with the correct understanding of the Constitution so that they do the right thing and allow the chaplains — as they always have — to pray in the name of Jesus.” The Carlsbad City Council hasn’t released any statement yet regarding the complaint.

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