Atheist group demands Calif. city cease use of all chaplains after banning Jesus prayers


An atheist group is urging a California city that recently prohibited chaplains from praying in the name of Jesus to end its practice of having city-sponsored chaplains.  

The Carlsbad City Council recently received a complaint letter from the First Liberty Institute (FLI) regarding their telling two chaplains that they cannot pray in Jesus’ name.

In response, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter last Friday to Carlsbad Mayor Keith Blackburn urging him “to end any city-sponsored chaplaincies and stop allowing individuals to spread their personal religious beliefs on behalf of the city.”

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“The city should provide secular support services and leave decisions to seek religious support to individuals,” wrote Christopher Line, a staff attorney with FFRF. “Chaplains view the world and its problems through the lens of religion and a god, a view inapposite to nonbelievers.”

“The city of Carlsbad is a diverse community with ample opportunities for people of various faiths to seek support. The city must separate itself from religion and respect the beliefs, including nonbelief, of all.”

FFRF also took issue with the FLI’s letter, including its interpretation of the United States Supreme Court decision inKennedy v. Bremerton, in which the high court upheld the right of a public high school football coach to pray on the field after games.

“First Liberty distorts the law to the point of turning it completely upside-down by relying on Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which the Supreme Court upheld a government employee’s prayer because the court viewed that prayer as a ‘personal religious observance,’ holding that Kennedy’s prayer was private speech rather than government speech,” Line continued.

“The city manager did not prohibit Denny Cooper and JC Cooper from engaging in sectarian prayers as personal religious observances, but rather prohibited them from delivering sectarian prayers as part of their official duties as chaplains, as representatives of the city.”

“We commend the city for defending the First Amendment and urge it to stand firm in defense of the separation between state and church,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a statement released Tuesday. “First Liberty’s ludicrous arguments should be dismissed out of hand.”

Last month, FLI Counsel Kayla Toney wrote a letter to Carlsbad due to a decision by City Manager Scott Chadwick to stop fire chaplain Denny Cooper and police chaplain J.C. Cooper from praying in Jesus' name.

In an earlier interview with The Christian Post, Toney said she took issue with the city manager's reported argument that praying in Jesus' name constituted harassment of non-Christians and created a hostile work environment.

"This is not a true or accurate understanding of the law, which has always protected the prayers and expressions of religious Americans," she said. "Ironically, the city manager's order has created a hostile environment for the Chaplains and many other people of faith living in Carlsbad."

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Town of Greece v. Galloway that a New York town could have ministers pray Christian invocations for their official meetings.

Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the majority opinion, writing that "legislative prayer, while religious in nature, has long been understood as compatible with the Establishment Clause."

"As practiced by Congress since the framing of the Constitution, legislative prayer lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose, and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society," wrote Kennedy.    

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