The city of Atlanta fired its fire chief solely because of his religious beliefs about same-sex marriage and homosexual conduct, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court.
The lawsuit was filed by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys on behalf of former fire chief Kelvin Cochran, one of the nation’s most decorated firefighters and a devout Christian.
Cochran was suspended for 30 days last November and was subsequently fired over a men’s devotional book he authored that included a section on biblical sexual morality.
“Every American should be concerned about a government that thinks it can fire you because of what you believe,” ADF senior counsel Kevin Theriot said in a prepared statement.
One of the leaders in the campaign to fire Cochran was city Councilman Alex Wan.
“I respect each individual’s rights 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,” Wan told the Atlanta Journal Constitution last November.
In other words, if you work for the city of Atlanta and happen to be an evangelical Christian – you may want to start dusting off your resume.
The 54-page lawsuit against the city and Mayor Kasim Reed is a jaw-dropper. Cochran’s attorneys are asking for the chief to be reinstated – and they also want financial damages.
A spokesperson for the city of Atlanta told me they were not aware of the lawsuit. So I sent them a copy. They have yet to reply. You can read their previous responses to the controversy here.
Until last November, Cochran had a stellar record. He was named Atlanta’s fire chief in 2008. He served there until 2009 when he accepted a position in the Obama Administration as a U.S. fire administrator.
He returned to Atlanta in 2010 after Mayor Reed “begged” him to serve as the city’s fire chief. In 2012, Fire Chief magazine named Cochran the “Fire Chief of the Year.”
So what happened?
In the Fall of 2013 Cochran wrote a book, “Who Told You That You were Naked? Overcoming the Stronghold of Condemnation.” The book is not about sexual morality, but it does address the issue on approximately six pages.
Someone from the Fire Department had shown a few of the passages of the book to Councilman Wan, the lawsuit states. The unnamed person told Wan the passages were opposed to his beliefs on the subject.
Even though an investigation concluded that Cochran had not discriminated against anyone – he was fired.
“To actually lose my childhood dream-come-true profession – where all of my expectations have been greatly exceeded – because of my faith is staggering,” Cochran said in a statement. “The very faith that led me to pursue my career has been used to take it from me.”
I’ve had a chance to interview Chief Cochran and I have found him to be a good and honorable man. What happened to him should not happen to any other American.
“Americans are guaranteed the freedom to live without fear of being fired because of their beliefs and thoughts,” ADF senior counsel David Cortman said. “The city of Atlanta is not above the Constitution and federal law. In America, a religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant.”
Chief Cochran has some high-profile supporters – including a large portion of Georgia’s congressional delegation.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk penned a letter calling on the city to reinstate the fire chief. It was signed by six members of the delegation – including Rep. Buddy Carter, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Rep. Tom Price, Rep. Austin Scott and Rep. Jody Hice.
“As fellow Georgians, we are extremely troubled that a capable and long-standing public servant in our state can be targeted for retaliation and dismissal solely because of his religious views,” Loudermilk wrote. “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.”
It sounds to me like Mayor Reed and Councilman Wan are bullies who don’t like Christian people. And I hope Chief Cochran gets his day in court – and takes the city of Atlanta for every single penny he can get.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values." Follow Todd on Twitter@ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.