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Former Atlanta Fire Chief Sues City, Claiming He Was Fired for Christian Faith

Atlanta Fire Department

John Burger - published on 02/19/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Kelvin Cochran wrote book denouncing homosexuality.

The former fire chief of Atlanta, Georgia, is suing the city and its mayor, claiming he was dismissed from his job because of his Christian faith.

Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Kelvin Cochran, a highly regarded fire offical whose troubles began when some fire department employees complained about a book he was allegedly distributing on the job. Cochran had written the book, "Who Told You That You Were Naked?" which briefly discusses "Biblical sexual morality," according to an ADF press release. Cochran, who is a deacon in a Protestant church, wrote the book during his personal time.

According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the book describes homosexuality as a “perversion” akin to bestiality and pederasty.

In passages about sexual relationships, he wrote that “since God made sex for procreation, he only intended it to be between a man and a woman.” He continued, saying that those who live without God’s purpose “pursue sexual fulfillment through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways.”

He later defined terms such as “uncleanness” as: “whatever is opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, and all other forms of sexual perversion.”

Cochran, formerly of Shreveport, La., first served as Atlanta fire chief in 2008. After briefly serving as President Barack Obama’s U.S. Fire Administrator, he returned to Atlanta as fire chief in 2010.

Suspended without pay last November, he was told that the city would conduct an investigation and that he would have to undergo "sensitivity training." According to a Charge of Discrimination he filed with the Equal Employmnt Opportunity Commission, he was told at the end of his suspension, January 6, that the investigation had found no evidence that he had discriminated against anyone, but city officials said that his book needed the personal approval of the mayor before publication.

A city spokesman told Aleteia that Cochran "was informed at the time of his suspension that he had failed to receive the required approvals pursuant to the City Code in seeking to engage in an outside income-producing venture. He was also informed that the issue was not the religious nature of his book, but the fact that he was espousing theories in the workplace about certain groups of people that were in conflict with the City’s nondiscrimination policy."

"He was further informed that there was an issue with his espousing these beliefs while identifying himself as the Atlanta Fire Chief," the spokesman said in a statement. "Finally, Mr. Cochran was informed that distributing the book to members of his command staff in the workplace was improper and risked sending a message to his staffers that they were expected to embrace his beliefs.

"The religious nature of his book is not the reason he is no longer employed by the City of Atlanta. The totality of his conduct—including the way he handled himself during his suspension after he agreed not to make public comments during the investigation—reflected poor judgment and failure to follow clearly defined work protocols," the statement continued.

According to USA Today, Cochran said that he ran the idea of the book by the city’s ethics department and didn’t receive any pushback. He said that he gave Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed copy of the book a year ago.

"I was informed that all City employees interviewed in the investigation were asked if my faith influenced my leadership style. All employees responded that it did," Cochran wrote in the EEOC complaint. "I was informed that since my faith influenced my leadership style, as well as other issues concerning my book, I was given the choice to resign or be terminated." 

In a press release about the lawsuit, ADF cited a quote from openly gay City Councilman Alex Wan in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as evidence that the city publicly admitted it fired Cochran for his beliefs:“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."

When he was terminated, Cochran told reporters, "I’m not apologetic for writing the book." He said he will not hide his Christian faith. "Everything I wrote in the book is based on scriptures, not my opinions," he said.

The city said it will "vigorously defend its actions in any legal proceedings brought by Mr. Cochran and is confident that the decision to terminate Mr. Cochran was both the right thing to do and fully legal."

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.

Religious Freedom
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