Fire chief sacked after defending Biblical marriage takes discrimination case to court
ATLANTA, Georgia, November 20, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) -- Atlanta’s former fire chief is suing the city and mayor for firing him two years ago after he wrote and self-published a book on his own time that defended real marriage while describing homosexual behavior as one of the perversions listed in the Bible.
Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran had his day in Federal court last week after he filed a civil rights suit, saying he was discriminated against for his religious beliefs. He has asked to be reinstated as fire chief and to receive back pay.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot argued that the city unjustly fired Cochran, denying him his First Amendment freedoms.
“It’s ironic that the city points to tolerance and inclusion as part of its reasoning,” Cochran said in an ADF press release. “What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant’s 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs?”
During the hearing, U.S. District Judge Leigh May asked attorneys representing the city if the fire chief would have been fired had he penned a book about golf instead of marriage.
Kathryn Hinton, an attorney representing the city, replied with a straight face that “there would have been discipline imposed," adding, "I believe the content itself was not the ultimate reason.”
The Federal judge said that a jury trial may be called in the spring on whatever issues she cannot resolve.
The lawsuit, which the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia determined had merit to go forward, charges that Cochran was subjected to retaliation and discrimination based on his viewpoint, and the violation of his freedoms of religion, association, and due process (firing without following proper procedure).
“A religious or ideological test can’t be used to fire a public servant, but that’s what the city did, as the facts of this case clearly demonstrate,” Theriot explained. “Chief Cochran is one of the most accomplished fire chiefs in the nation, but the city’s actions place every city employee in jeopardy who may hold to a belief that city officials don’t like.”
Cochran had a distinguished career of service. The first black fire chief in Shreveport, Louisiana, he helped the New Orleans Fire Department through Hurricane Katrina. He served as Atlanta’s fire chief until he was named FEMA’s U.S. Fire Administrator by President Barack Obama. In 2010, the city of Atlanta lured him back to head the Atlanta Fire Department.
“I got on a plane and I went and I begged Chief Cochran to leave a presidential appointment confirmed by the Senate to come back to the city of Atlanta,” Mayor Kasim Reed said. Cochran came back and continued to serve with distinction, being named 2012 Fire Chief of the Year.
Cochran attends Elizabeth Baptist Church, where he is a deacon and Bible study leader. On his own personal time, he wrote a study guide exhorting Christian men to faithfulness, entitled, “Who Told You You Were Naked?” Cochran says he got permission from the city’s ethics director to publish it, and to include his position as fire chief in its bio.
In the book, Cochran wrote against “sexual acts pursued for purposes other than procreation and marital pleasure in holy matrimony.” Specifically, he condemned “multiple partners, with the opposite sex, same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways which defile their body-temple and dishonor God.”
Elsewhere, Cochran’s book defines “uncleanness” as “whatever is opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, and, all other forms of sexual perversion.”
Cochran gave a copy of his book to friends in the fire department. He also gave a copy to Mayor Reed in January 2014, and the mayor told Cochran he planned to read it. The book eventually found its way to Alex Wan, an openly homosexual Atlanta Councilman.
After reading the book, Wan pushed for Cochran’s firing. “When you’re a city employee and (have) thoughts, beliefs and opinions different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door,” the councilman said.
Mayor Reed bowed to the pressure and on November 24, 2014, placed Cochran under suspension without pay, causing him to lose over $14,000. Mayor Reed also ordered him to take “sensitivity training.”
Despite being cleared of any wrongdoing by investigators, upon completion of his unpaid suspension in January 2015, Cochran was fired.
The mayor made it “clear” that the reason he fired Cochran was because “the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs and is inconsistent with the administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city.”
“After an investigation... found Cochran did not discriminate against anyone, the mayor fired him anyway –citing as his basis, ironically, the need to tolerate diverse views,” an ADF statement relayed.
“It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians,” the New York Times opined in support of Cochran’s ouster.
“This is appalling... It’s a frightening day in the United States when a person cannot express their faith without fears of persecution,” Georgia Baptist Convention President Robert White lashed. “It’s persecution when a godly fire chief loses his job over expressing his Christian faith.”
“When someone is disciplined and ultimately terminated because of personal views expressed, that’s the definition of a First Amendment issue,” Faith and Freedom Coalition Executive Director Timothy Head confirmed.
“This is true discrimination. The LGBT community wants us to be afraid of expressing our Christian beliefs,” Rev. Franklin Graham commented. “They want us to cower in the face of their threats to the livelihoods of believers. But we shouldn’t back down!”
“Just because you sign my paycheck,” Elizabeth Baptist Church Pastor Dr. Craig Oliver told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “doesn’t mean you can control what I think or say.”
A rally for Cochran delivered over 28,000 signatures to the mayor’s office to support religious freedom legislation before the Georgia House.
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins agreed. “The naked truth is that the actions taken against the chief are designed to send a message that will silence Christians and in effect force them to ‘check their faith at the door’ of public service,” Perkins said, citing the city councilman’s own words.
Dr. Michael Youseff wrote in Charisma News that Christians “hold no hatred toward homosexuals” or anyone, “and yet, if you believe in biblical truth, the thought police will brandish you as a ‘hater.’“
The American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher wrote that Cochran’s real offense was believing the wrong things. He took issue with the New York Times’ saying it doesn’t matter that the Atlanta investigation found Cochran did not discriminate against anyone. “The New York Times believes in thought-crime,” he concluded.
“The LGBT members of our community have a right to be able to express their views and convictions about sexuality and deserve to be respected for their position without hate or discrimination,” Cochran told Fox News. “But Christians also have a right to express our belief regarding our faith and be respected for our position without hate and without discrimination.”
“In the United States, no one should be vilified, hated or discriminated against for expressing their beliefs,” Cochran summarized.
“This is a warning to every American that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are hanging by a thread, which will snap if we don’t fight to preserve these cherished protections,” Cochran admonished.
Reed says Cochran was fired for poor judgment and insubordination, not his religious beliefs. He adds the charge that Cochran gave unsolicited copies of his book to subordinates. The mayor also disputes that he was given a copy of the book, and that the city’s ethics director approved its publication.
ADF’s Jeremy Tedesco states the other side. “Despite being completely exonerated over concerns related to his conduct and how he treats people, the city fired him anyway,” Tedesco said. “That really goes to show that they fired him for one thing, and that is, he held the wrong beliefs, according to the city.”
“God is going to do great things,” Cochran said, “and He will vindicate me publicly.”
For a summary from Cochran’s viewpoint, click here.