Fire Chief Wins $1.2 Million Case Against Atlanta for Firing Him for Religious Beliefs

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Kelvin Cochran grew up in Louisiana with one goal in life:  to become a firefighter. He realized that dream in 1981 in his native Shreveport. He rose through the ranks, and in 1999 became the fire chief there, the first African-American to serve in that capacity. In 2008, he was appointed fire chief for the city of Atlanta, and a year later President Barack Obama tapped him for the position of U.S. fire administrator. In 2010, Mayor Kasim Reed encouraged him to come back to Atlanta and re-assume his position as fire chief, which he did.

In January 2015, Kelvin Cochran was fired.

His crime? As a deacon at his Baptist church, he led a men’s Bible study, and he turned his notes for that Bible study into a book titled Who Told You That You Were Naked?, referring to Adam’s encounter with God in Genesis. The book is aimed at men trying to live a Christian life. In the 162-page book, there is one chapter in which Cochran writes about the Christian principle that sex is reserved exclusively for marriage, the union of one man and one woman, and that any other types of sexual activity are not in concert with God’s plan for human beings. When that became publicized — 10 months after Cochran gave a copy of his book to the mayor — Mayor Reed suspended Cochran for 30 days and ordered an internal investigation.

The results of the investigation were that Mr. Cochran had shown no disrespectful or discriminatory behavior against homosexuals — or against anyone else, for that matter.

No matter! On January 6, 2015, Cochran was told by the authorities of the city of Atlanta that he would have to resign or be terminated. He refused to resign and was fired.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit organization that works with more than 2,500 lawyers throughout the country, agreed to represent Cochran in his suit against Atlanta. In 2015, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Kevin Theriot wrote, “Chief Cochran served the city of Atlanta with distinction, both before and after his post with the Obama administration. The city fired him for nothing other than his faith, and that’s not constitutional.”

Mayor Reed, who claimed to seek tolerance and encourage diversity, fired Cochran because his views were not politically correct. He was not willing to tolerate Cochran’s differing views on human sexuality – which amount to Christianity 101.

Throughout America, there are politicians and bureaucrats who profess their love for diversity but tolerate only views which they themselves favor. At the time he was fired, Cochran said, “It’s ironic that the city points to tolerance and inclusion as part of its reasoning. What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant’s 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs? I am heartbroken that I will no longer be able to serve the city and the people I love as fire chief for no reason other than my Christian faith.”

A year ago, U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May ruled that the city violated Cochran’s constitutional rights. Earlier this fall, after almost four years of litigation, the city of Atlanta agreed to settle the case and pay Mr. Cochran $1.2 million.

This case shows the lengths to which the Left is willing to go curtail religious liberty in this country. We have comparable cases here in the commonwealth. Thankfully, there are nationwide organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom and state organizations like Massachusetts Family Institute to step up to protect our God-given constitutional rights.