Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran

Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran

A federal court ruled Wednesday that a wrongful discharge lawsuit by former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran will go forward against the city.

Cochran alleges that Mayor Muhammad Kasim Reed unjustly firing him because of his religious beliefs.

Cochran authored a Christian devotional book for men that included a chapter on sexuality in which he was critical of homosexuality, describing it as unnatural and unbiblical. He wrote the book, “Who Told You That You Are Naked,” on his personal time.

As reported by WND in October, the city’s attorneys asked the court to toss out the lawsuit, but that motion has now been denied.

The lawsuit will proceed on Cochran’s primary claims of retaliation, discrimination based on his viewpoint, and the violation of his constitutionally protected freedoms of religion, association, and due process. The due-process claim involves his allegation that the city fired him without following its own procedures.

In oral arguments in October, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Cochran, argued that the city’s own arguments confirmed Cochran’s claim that the city fired him for holding and expressing religious beliefs city officials didn’t like.

“A religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant, but the city did exactly that, as the evidence and facts of this case clearly demonstrate,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, who argued before the court.

“We look forward to proceeding with this case because of the injustice against Chief Cochran, one of the most accomplished fire chiefs in the nation, but also because the city’s actions place every city employee in jeopardy who may hold to a belief that city officials don’t like,” Theriot said.

“Tolerance must apply to people of different viewpoints, not just those who agree with the beliefs the government prefers,” added ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “Americans don’t surrender their constitutionally protected freedoms when they become public servants.”

Ordered to complete ‘sensitivity training’

After activists in Atlanta’s gay community complained to the city about a brief mention of homosexuality in Cochran’s 162-page book, Reed suspended Cochran for 30 days without pay and announced he would have to complete “sensitivity training.”

Muhammad Kasim Reed, mayor of Atlanta.

Muhammad Kasim Reed, mayor of Atlanta

Reed then fired him, even though a city investigation concluded he did not discriminate against anyone. Public statements Reed and City Councilman Alex Wan made late last year confirm the truth about why the city fired Cochran.

“I want to be clear that 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 for all citizens,” Reed said in November 2014 to explain why he suspended Cochran.

‘Check your Christianity at the door’?

That same month, Wan, an openly homosexual council member, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I respect each individual’s right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you’re a city employee and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.”

Cochran wrote in his book the following passage:

“When men are unrestrained in their quest for sex outside of God’s purpose they will never be fulfilled. Naked men refuse to give in, so they pursue sexual fulfillment through 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.”

That ran counter to the beliefs of Mayor Muhammad Kasim Reed and was enough to get him suspended, then fired.

The city now claims the reason Cochran was fired was because he didn’t get written permission to write the self-published book.

“One of the most alarming things is that we did not know about the book when it was published,” city spokeswoman Anne Torres told WSB-TV.

But Cochran’s lawyers said that’s simply not true. They say Cochran handed an early copy of his book to Reed in January 2014, a year before he was fired.

“This wasn’t a surprise,” said Kevin Theriot, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing Cochran in his legal battle with the city. “This is the thought police.”

Christian churches and groups rallied around Cochran, a deacon at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta. Thousands signed a petition seeking his reinstatement.

Reed recounted in his 2014 State of the City Address that he “begged” Cochran to return to Atlanta in 2010 from his job as U.S. fire administrator in the Obama administration. Cochran agreed, and the city council confirmed him to serve a second time as the city’s fire chief, a job Cochran originally held from 2008 to 2009.

In 2012, Fire Chief Magazine named Cochran “Fire Chief of the Year.” In a city news release issued about the award, Reed thanked Cochran for his “pioneering efforts to improve performance and service within the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department,” applauded “Chief Cochran and all of Atlanta’s brave firefighters for the commitment to excellence shown throughout the department,” and recognized that Cochran’s “national recognition” as Fire Chief of the Year was “much-deserved.”

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