Free to Believe

Kelvin Cochran

Atlanta Fire Rescue Department: Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, a long-time member of the city's Fire Rescue Department, was forced out of the squad on January 6, 2015, due to his religious beliefs. Despite a distinguished career, including an appointment by the Obama administration as the U.S. Fire Administrator, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed targeted and fired Chief Cochran for his self-published book on biblical morality. After chatting with a handful of Christian co-workers, Kelvin offered them copies of Who Told You That You Were Naked? which included a chapter on human sexuality, consistent with the Bible's teaching on the subject.  Despite the fact that Cochran had obtained his superiors' approval to publish the book, and despite the fact that he only gave the book to friends, he was suspended in late 2014, until the Mayor fired him on January 6, 2015.

In an ironic twist, the New York Times covered Cochran's story in its January 7, 2015 paper, just a few pages over from an editorial in which it proclaimed that there are no consequences for religious liberty in the marriage debate. Mayor Reed insisted that Kelvin's "personal religious beliefs [were] not the issue"—a statement clearly at odds with the facts of the case. According to the Times, "When he took the oath of office, Mr. Cochran said, it ended with the phrase 'So help me God.'  If glorifying God was a violation, he said, 'I should have been fired at the very end of my oath!" 

"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," he told reporters.  "It's ironic that the city points to tolerance and inclusion as part of its reasoning.  What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant's 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs?" 

In a January 13, 2015 column, New York Times editors insisted that Cochran's book was full of "virulent anti-gay views"—when in fact, the 162 page book only mentioned homosexuality twice.  Both times, the conversation merely echoed the Bible's teachings on the subject.  In addition, editors suggested "It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians.  His position as a high-level public servant makes his remarks especially problematic, and requires that he be held to a different standard."

On January 13, 2015, hundreds of Cochran supporters spilled into the rotunda of the Georgia Capitol to stand up to the city's religious intolerance—and then marched to Mayor Reed's office where they left nearly 50,000 petitions from citizens across the nation.  At the rally, Cochran had the opportunity to tell his side of the story.  To a room full of reporters, Cochran made it clear: "[I was] fired for having the audacity to believe that sex was created for procreation and should be in the bonds of holy matrimony between a man and a woman."  Ironically, the Mayor's office, while flatly denying that the firing had anything to do with Kelvin's religious views, was in the back of the room, handing out copies of the New York Times editorial that insisted the opposite—that Cochran had been (and should have been) fired for his religious beliefs.

While Cochran and his family have brought the battle to the courts, six Georgia Congressmen wrote a letter to Mayor Kasim Reed, indicating their concern over the mayor's intolerance.  "Your action against Chief Cochran appears to violate fundamental principles of free speech and religious freedom," wrote Reps. Barry Loudermilk (R), Buddy Carter (R), Lynn Westmoreland (R), Tom Price (R), Austin Scott (R), and Jody Hice (R).  "Chief Cochran relied upon religious text from the Bible to express his opinions in his personal writings. The only way Chief Cochran could avoid his views would be to disown his religion. Indeed, in terminating him, the City of Atlanta itself engaged in an act of discrimination, and worse, did so on the basis of his religious beliefs."  The letter continued: "Chief Cochran notes that the city justified his termination on the grounds of 'tolerance' and 'inclusion' yet asks, 'What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant's 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs?'" 

Chief Cochran filed a complaint charging discrimination on the basis of religion with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on January 19, 2015. On February 18, 2015 he filed a lawsuit against the City of Atlanta and Mayor Kasim Reed in U.S. District Court, seeking to vindicate his “constitutional rights to free speech, free exercise, freedom of association, equal protection, freedom from religious hostility, and due process.” The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Chief Cochran. 

Photo credit: Courtesy of City of Atlanta