Supporters of now-former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who was fired last week over his Christian beliefs, rallied at the Georgia State Capitol Monday, while homosexual activists are praising the controversial firing, and some are warning about the case’s implications for religious freedom.
Hundreds of Christians and faith leaders held a January 12 rally to support Cochran and religious freedom legislation currently under consideration in the Georgia House. The gathering started out at the Georgia State Capitol before participants marched to Atlanta’s City Hall to present 28,000 signatures to the mayor’s office in support of the bill.
Cochran was fired by Mayor Kasim Reed January 6 after a 30-day suspension stemming from Cochran’s authoring a Bible study for men that discussed the Christian definition of sexual purity in two segments of the 160-page book. The brief passages touch on homosexuality along with other things, and their frankness upset homosexual supporters.
Reed continues to maintain that Cochran was fired for poor judgment and insubordination, and not his personal religious beliefs, and he has strongly disputed the notion that religious freedom is at issue.
Cochran, a longtime firefighter with a distinguished professional record, and an African-American Baptist church deacon, issued a statement via the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing him.
“I am heartbroken that I will no longer be able to serve the city and the people I love as fire chief, for no reason other than my Christian faith,” Cochran said.
“It’s ironic that the city points to tolerance and inclusion as part of its reasoning,” said Cochran. “What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant’s 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs?”
A City investigation stated Cochran did not have authority to publish the book and that he gave unsolicited copies of the book to subordinates. Reed also took issue with Cochran’s speaking about his suspension. Reed and Cochran have given differing accounts of these aspects of the case. There was no evidence that Cochran discriminated against anyone on the job or the community.
The pro-homosexual group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) extolled Reed’s firing of Cochran, saying, “Cochran’s profoundly unprofessional conduct left Reed no choice but to remove him from the public trust.”
HRC also dismissed any infringement of religious freedom in Cochran’s firing, saying his “unprofessional and irresponsible conduct was completely unrelated to his personal convictions. Instead, his actions before and during the investigation left him unfit to serve.”
The claim that the firing is a religious freedom issue is coming from “extreme anti-LGBT activists,” they said.
Liberal press is following suit.
The New York Times Editorial Board said Cochran’s “religious beliefs include virulent anti-gay views.”
“It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians,” according to the NYT. “His position as a high-level public servant makes his remarks especially problematic, and requires that he be held to a different standard.”
The newspaper also called the assertion of Cochran’s freedom of speech and religion having been violated predictable and wrong, criticizing Georgia lawmakers for considering the religious freedom bill.
The numbers continue to grow of those who support Cochran, and of those who say his firing is a violation of religious freedom and speech.
The son of Billy Graham, Rev. Franklin Graham, is among those coming to Cochran’s defense.
“Cochran was persecuted and denied his career because of his privately held religious beliefs,” Graham said in a statement. “This is true discrimination.”
“The LGBT community wants us to be afraid of expressing our Christian beliefs,” Rev. Graham said. “They want us to cower in the face of their threats to the livelihoods of believers. But we shouldn’t back down!”
The pastor of Cochran’s church sent a piercing message January 11 to Reed, an Atlanta Journal Constitution report said.
“Just because you sign my paycheck,” said Elizabeth Baptist Church Senior Pastor Dr. Craig Oliver, “doesn’t mean you can control what I think or say.”
Dr. Alveda King, pastoral associate and Director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life, said the Cochran situation is a classic example of miscommunication of the truths of the First Amendment.
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins delivered close to 40,000 petitions to Atlanta City Hall the day of the rally in support of Cochran.
“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.
Author and evangelist Dr. Michael Youseff said Cochran’s firing suggests a dictatorship and that he was among many people praying for Kasim Reed.
“Like Chief Cochran, other Bible-believing Christians such as myself hold no hatred toward homosexuals, or toward all people who choose to live their lives their way,” Youseff wrote at Charisma News. “And yet, if you believe in biblical truth, the thought police will brandish you as a “hater.”
Columnist Rod Dreher said on The American Conservative site that Cochran’s real offense is thinking the wrong things, and saying the wrong things, and he called the NYT proclamation that it shouldn’t matter that the investigation found no evidence that Cochran had mistreated homosexuals “chilling.”
“The New York Times believes in thought-crime,” he wrote.
“This happened to me, but it’s really not about me,” Cochran said to supporters. “It’s 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.”