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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Fire Chief Says He Was Fired for Beliefs

(CN) - Atlanta's former fire chief says in a federal lawsuit that he was fired by Mayor Kasim Reed for self-publishing a book on his evangelical Christian religious beliefs that condemned homosexuality and sex outside of marriage.

Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired in January after a city investigation into the book, "Who Told You That You Are Naked?" The inquiry found Cochran didn't obtain the required permission to write the Bible treatise, and that it he distributed the 162-page book to people under his command that didn't ask for it.

But in a lawsuit filed in the Atlanta Federal Court, Cochran says it was beliefs and not any violation of procedure, that led to his termination and the violation of 1st and 4th Amendment rights.

A portion of the book focuses on sexual morality, with Cochran espousing the position that God crated sexual acts for procreation and marital pleasure in holy matrimony between a man and a woman and that "the pursuit of sex outside of marriage -- including fornication, homosexual acts, and all other types of non-marital sex -- is contrary to God's will."

Cochran maintains he was fired, "solely because he holds religious beliefs concerning same-sex marriage and homosexual conduct that are contrary to the Mayor's and the City's views on the subjects, and because he expressed those beliefs in the non-work-related, religious book he self-published."

One of the first African Americans hired by the Shreveport Fire Department in Louisiana, Cochran says he attained his dream of becoming a firefighter by developing Christian values he held close to heart.

After climbing the ladder of leadership in Shreveport, Cochran accepted the position of Fire Chief of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department in 2008. The following year, President Obama appointed Cochran to the post of U.S. Fire Administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration Department in the Washington, D.C. area.

But, Cochran claims Mayor Reed was desperate for him to return and "begged" him to "leave a presidential appointment confirmed by the Senate to come back to the City of Atlanta."

Cochran returned to serve five more years in Atlanta where he was named Fire Chief of the Year in 2012 by Fire Chief magazine, and obtained a Class 1 Public Protection Classification rating in 2014 for the first time in Atlanta's history, according to the complaint.

"During his seven years as Atlanta's Fire Chief, Cochran never discriminated against, and was never accused of discriminating against, anyone based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other protected characteristic."

On November 24, 2014, the City and Mayor Reed suspended Cochran for 30 days without pay and ultimately fired him on January 6, 2015.

Cochran claims that the 162-page book is not exclusively about sexual morality, but it does address the issue with views consistent to the Bible and historic Christian teachings.

"The book teaches that pursuing sex outside the confines of marriage between a man and Cochran further maintains he got approval from the City of Atlanta Ethics Officer to write a non-work-related, faith-based book as a serving city official.

Upon completion of the book, Cochran contacted her again to request permission to include his title of Atlanta Fire Chief in the "About the Author" section.

The complaint states that the book expresses Cochran's personal religious beliefs that resulted from his private religious study at Elizabeth Baptist Church where he serves as a Deacon.

About 10 months after Cochran published and distributed his book, an openly gay City Councilmember brought it to the attention of the city's Human Resources Commissioner, the complaint says.

Mayor Reed publicly expressed disappointment and disagreement with Cochran's book, and required the fire chief to complete sensitivity training, the complaint says.

Cochran says the City fired him without following standard procedures outlined in multiple code sections. Cochran claims he did nothing wrong and was denied an opportunity to respond to the actions taken against him.

Cochran says he also lost a job opportunity as another city mayor rescinded an offer because of the circumstances surrounding his suspension.

Cochran seeks compensatory and nominal damages, reinstatement to his former position, and that the city be forced to admit it violated his constitutional rights.

He is represented by David Cortman of the Alliance Defending Freedom in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

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