In an article for the Wall Street Journal published earlier this week, writer Jason Riley examined the real reason that former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired despite a 30-year career fighting fires and serving his city as fire chief and country as U.S. Fire Administrator in 2009.
The City of Atlanta has tried to pass it off as an ethics violation, saying that a book that Cochran wrote and self-published – on his own time, to support his men's Bible study at church – required the Mayor's permission. But Riley is having none of it.
"In response to the lawsuit [filed by Alliance Defending Freedom], the city has maintained that Mr. Cochran was terminated for violating protocol, not for his religious views—as if he would have been fired for publishing a cookbook."
I think we can all agree that if Cochran had filled the pages of his book with his favorite firehouse recipes we would not be having this conversation. So what's the real reason he was fired?
"What earned the ire of Atlanta officials is that the 162-page tome includes a few passages criticizing homosexual conduct . . . " writes Riley.
How do we know this? Well, city officials were quite clear when Cochran was suspended that the content of his book put it at odds with the city.
“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 of her citizens—regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race and religious beliefs,” said [Mayor Kasim] Reed. Alex Wan, a member of the City Council who is openly gay, said “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.”
If the roles were reversed and a city official fired an employee because they support same-sex marriage, people would be outraged.
The City's actions show quite clearly that they believe Chief Cochran's biblical values and his speech are not only less important than those of people who disagree with the Bible on the topic of sex and marriage, but that he doesn't deserve to keep his job because he holds them. But faith is not reserved for pastors and chaplains, and the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech doesn’t mean that people may only be faithful or discuss their faith within the walls of their churches.
Chief Cochran has proven that he can serve his city and the entire country without discriminating against anyone. In fact, Riley notes that "the city's own investigation of the former fire chief's work history found no complaints of discrimination." But that certainly didn't keep the City of Atlanta from discriminating against him.
Riley is right on the money. No amount of backpedaling or the city covering its tracks can change the fact that Kelvin Cochran was unjustly fired for one reason: expressing his faith.