A federal court has issued a ruling that the City of Atlanta acted unconstitutionally when they fired its former fire chief because of his Christian beliefs. U.S District Judge Leigh May ruled that policies used by Atlanta city officials to dismiss Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran fail to pass “constitutional muster.” Chief Cochran was dismissed in late 2014 after homosexual rights activists launched a campaign to oust him due to his Christian convictions. “Gay rights” leaders claimed that a book Cochran had written was discriminatory and included “hate speech” aimed at the homosexual community. The book in question was a devotional book Cochran authored on his own time designed for men’s Bible study groups. The book challenged men to be “world-changers” by being faithful husbands and fathers, and men of sexual integrity. Cochran urged men to resist any form of sexual impurity “which defiles the temple of God,” including any sexual activity outside of the marital union of a man and a woman.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed accused Cochran of discriminatory behavior, saying his Christian devotional contained “inflammatory content.” He was suspended for 30 days and ordered to undergo “sensitivity training.” He was subsequently fired on the trumped-up charge that he had failed to get permission from city officials before writing the book.Judge May decided that the city’s restrictions on outside employment and off-the-job activities were too subjective, and amounted to prior restraint of the free speech rights of its employees. The judge ruled that the provisions of the city’s employee handbook gave administrators “unbridled discretion,” and could be used to discharge an employee for writing a book on golf or badminton.
Kevin Theriot, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the ruling makes clear that free speech can’t be stifled based on the whims of government officials. “The government can’t force its employees to get its permission before engaging in freedom of expression. The City of Atlanta cannot deny permission to employees to speak about matters unrelated to work just because they disagree with the views expressed.”
while Judge May’s conclusions about the unconstitutional nature of the city’s outside activities policies were commendable, the balance of her decision was a wholesale evisceration of the scope of the First Amendment’s protections of free speech and the free exercise of religion.
Despite obvious on-the-record evidence to the contrary, Judge May decided that the City of Atlanta had not retaliated against Chief Cochran because of his personal viewpoints, and did not violate his rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. Kelvin Cochran has had a distinguished career in the fire service. He became the first African American to serve as a firefighter with the Shreveport, Louisiana Fire Department in 1981. He went on to become the city’s Fire Chief. Cochran was named Atlanta’s Fire Chief in 2008. President Barack Obama appointed him as the nation’s Fire Administrator in 2009. Cochran returned to his post as Atlanta’s chief firefighting official the following year.During his time at the helm of the Atlanta Fire Department, Chief Cochran instituted the Atlanta Fire Rescue Doctrine. It states that the Department is committed to “a culture of justice and equity [devoid of] racism, sexism, favoritism, cronyism, and anything that would interfere with a wholesome work environment for any people group.” “In my life I have experienced firsthand the negative attitudes, racial slurs, and discrimination because of the color of my skin,” Cochran says. “Because of that, I’ve lived by the conviction that I would never allow someone under my leadership to have the same experience of discrimination I did as a minority.”
“However, it is still unthinkable to me that the very faith and patriotism that inspired my professional achievements and drove me to treat all people with love and equity is what the government ultimately used to bring my dream career to an end,” Cochran observed.Kelvin Cochran has continued his devotion to Christian ministry. He currently serves as chief operating officer of Elizabeth Baptist Church, a multisite Southern Baptist Church in the Atlanta metropolitan area.