The city of Atlanta has agreed to pay $1.2 million to a fire chief who was fired for writing a Bible study.
The Alliance Defending Freedom said the city council voted on the payout to Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran after a court determined city rules requiring employees to obtain permission for such activity are unconstitutional.
The mayor of Atlanta terminated Cochran’s employment because of his Christian faith and beliefs, ADF said.
Mayor Kasim Reed had suspended Cochran for 30 days and announced he must complete “sensitivity training” after activists who oppose the fire chief’s Christian views on sexual behavior complained about a men’s devotional book Cochran had written on his personal time.
ADF explained biblical sexual morality is mentioned only briefly in the 162-page book.
When an investigation revealed Cochran did not discriminate against anyone, Reed fired him anyway.
ADF spokesman Kevin Theriot explained at the time: “The government can’t force its employees to get its permission before engaging in free speech. In addition, as the court found, the city can’t leave such decisions to the whims of government officials. This ruling benefits not only Chief Cochran, but also other employees who want to write books or speak about matters unrelated to work. Atlanta can no longer force them to get permission or deny them permission just because certain officials disagree with the views expressed.”
As WND previously reported, Cochran sued the city after he was suspended and ordered to take “sensitivity training.” He ultimately was fired when a chapter in his book for men titled “Who Told You That You Are Naked?” was brought to the attention of a homosexual city council member and the mayor.
Cochran’s suit alleged he was a victim of retaliation, discrimination based on his viewpoint, and violation of his constitutionally protected freedoms of religion, association and due process. The due-process claim centered on his allegation that the city fired him without following its own procedures.
Cochran prevailed on the due-process claim in the decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The city won other claims.
But the court found the city’s policy banning outside employment without prior approval was overly broad and subjective, giving veto power to supervisors based on their own biases.
The city council voted Monday on the payment for damages and attorneys’ fees.
“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,” Theriot said after the vote.
“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.”
The district court, in its earlier decision on Cochran’s behalf, said the city’s policy “would prevent an employee from writing and selling a book on golf or badminton on his own time and, without prior approval, would subject him to firing. It is unclear to the court how such an outside employment would ever affect the city’s ability to function, and the city provides no evidence to justify it. … The potential for stifled speech far outweighs any unsupported assertion of harm.”
Cochran’s 162-page devotional book was developed from his teaching at his church.
“Plaintiff’s book was written primarily for Christian men and is intended to help them fulfill God’s purpose for their lives. According to plaintiff, one of the book’s goals is to guide men to live faith-filled, virtuous lives,” notes the court’s decision.