ATLANTA, October 16, 2018, (LifeSiteNews) – A former “Fire Chief of the Year” who lost his job after publishing a book about Christianity in which he upheld Biblical teachings on marriage and sexuality — perceived by some to be “anti-gay” — has won a $1.2 million settlement from the city of Atlanta, his former employer.
“Great day for the Chief,” trumpeted a tweet from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). “1.2 mill settlement after yrs of unnecessary legal battle for his right to live out faith and #speech in city of Atlanta.”
Great day for the Chief. 1.2 mill settlement after yrs of unnecessary legal battle for his right to live out faith and #speech in city of Atlanta
@AllianceDefends https://t.co/RQoUGZhcPf pic.twitter.com/WuiM0XLVDH
— Rebecca Sears (@SearsBecca) October 16, 2018
While this is a welcome win for Kelvin Cochran and the cause of religious liberty, it is not a decisive vindication.
The city attorney conducted an extensive review of the case “and concluded that the cost of continuing to defend against the lawsuit would far exceed the cost to settle,” according to a Daily Journal report. And while Atlanta’s city council voted 11-3 in favor of the settlement, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has yet to sign off on the settlement.
“The government can’t force its employees to get its permission before they engage in free speech. It also can’t fire them for exercising that First Amendment freedom, causing them to lose both their freedom and their livelihoods,” said Kevin Theriot, the ADF attorney who represented Cochran.
“We are very pleased that the city is compensating Chief Cochran as it should, and we hope this will serve as a deterrent to any government that would trample upon the constitutionally protected freedoms of its public servants,” added Theriot.
The Fire Chief had sued the city and mayor for firing him three years ago after he wrote and self-published a book on his own time that defended male/female marriage while describing homosexual behavior as one of the perversions listed in the Bible.
In the suit, he claimed that he had been discriminated against for his religious beliefs.
“It’s ironic that the city points to tolerance and inclusion as part of its reasoning,” Cochran said at the time. “What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant’s 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs?”
“I was really surprised that writing a book — a Christian men’s bible study — 162 pages encouraging men to be the husbands and fathers and leaders that God has called us to be would put me in an adverse position against the city of Atlanta because of a few pages I wrote explaining biblical marriage and biblical sexuality,” said Cochran in an ADF video about the case.
Cochran experienced racial discrimination growing up in the south, and then as a young firefighter. As a result, “Providing leadership that eliminates discrimination was a high priority for me,” said the former fire chief in the video. “So having been terminated for the perception of discrimination was very very hurtful, and drives my passion for seeking justice and to fight for truth.”
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 is a member of 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, titled, “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” — following Biblical teaching — 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. Reed also ordered Cochran 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 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 at the time. “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.