Kelvin Cochran, former Atlanta fire chief, speaks at the podium after being sworn in at the annual convention of International Fire Chiefs in Dallas, Tex., on August 27, 2009.

Kelvin Cochran, former Atlanta fire chief, speaks at the podium after being sworn in at the annual convention of International Fire Chiefs in Dallas, Tex., on August 27, 2009.Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

ATLANTA (Reuters) – A federal judge will hear a high-profile discrimination lawsuit brought by a former Atlanta fire chief who claims he was fired for his religious beliefs after publishing a book critical of homosexuality.

City officials had sought the dismissal of the lawsuit, filed by Kelvin Cochran in a case that has been closely followed by conservative groups advocating religious freedom.

U.S. District Judge Leigh May said in a ruling issued on Wednesday (Dec. 16) that Cochran’s claims of religious discrimination are plausible and refused to dismiss the case.

In a 2013 self-published book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?,” Cochran, a Baptist, called homosexuality “vulgar” and “the opposite of purity.”

Cochran distributed about 20 copies of the book at work, and the city fired him early this year after employees complained to city council members, city attorney Robert N. Godfrey said.

The book “runs completely afoul” of city anti-discrimination policies, Godfrey said at a court hearing in October.

Cochran sued the city to regain his job, claiming violation of his First Amendments rights of free speech and religion.

“We look forward to proceeding with this case because of the injustice against Chief Cochran, one of the most accomplished fire chiefs in the nation, but also because the city’s actions place every city employee in jeopardy who may hold to a belief that city officials don’t like,” Kevin Theriot, Cochran’s attorney, said in a statement.

Theriot works for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit Christian advocacy group that says on its website the U.S. legal system has “been steadily moving against religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.”

A city of Atlanta spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Reuters)

12 Comments

  1. Predicted results:
    -The case will be dismissed because distributing one’s own book in a public workplace, be it a religious/political tract or YA fiction is an abuse of position. Made worse by the fact that distributing said book gives the impression of official sanction by the department of the positions therein.

    -Ultra conservative wing mouthpiece ADF will get its publicity.

    -Ex Chief Cochrane will be stuck with the costs of defending his frivolous lawsuit against the city.

  2. He should never have been fired. Your personal views are your personal views. They have nothing to do with his job.

    • So what if his job involved saving the lives of a gay couple? Would he be able to to do the job impartially and efficiently? When you’re the fire chief of a city, you are no longer just a private citizen with private beliefs but you represent your community and you must be able to serve everyone in the community, not just those you think are going to heaven.

      • People who are against same sex marriage save the lives of gay people all the time. It NEVER interferes with their job. Some public servants go over and above. I will give you an example. My late father was a pastor beginning in the 40s. He was very much against alcohol consumption. Early in his ministry he lived in a small town with a tavern. One night the tavern caught on fire and he was right there with the rest of the men in town passing water buckets to put out that fire. If you think that someone would not save the life or go to the rescue or assistance of someone simply because they hold different world views, you are a sad, sad man (I’m guessing man, I really can’t tell by the name).

        • People who are against same sex marriage ALSO, almost always…

          regularly say things like gay people should be jailed and/or executed.

          Regularly claim, without a shred of evidence, that gay marriage harms heterosexual marriage, and is as well a threat to children, family, faith, freedom, and western civilization.

          With distressing regularity, refer to gay people as sick, disturbed, alcoholic, drug addicted, dangerous, perverted, horrible, enslaved by lust, are identical to people who molest children.

          With a regularity envied by colons everywhere, claim that gay people hate God, Hate faith, love sat and, and want to destroy the church.

          Regularly claim that they have the right to discriminate against gay people on the basis of religious belief, but would howl like little babies if the same thing were done to them.

          Nothing says love like saying “Your family and life are unimportant.”

          Usually, being against SSM is accompanied by wolves far less gentle.

      • That is the stupidest and most annoying excuse for religious discrimination you people come up with. This man has held multiple leadership rolls for decades within the fire service and there is not one single complaint of him ever treating anyone differently based on who they are. If you honestly believe this than can you please tell me how emergency services can determine if a patient is gay? If they’re unresponsive and alone what cue is there is there so we know to discriminate against this person? Is there some kind of data base that has the addresses of gays on it so firemen know which house to let burn or police to not respond to? Is there some secret marking on the house? Trust me as an EMT the last thing I am going to notice when assessing my patient is the gay pride symbol in the corner. If that house was burning the firemen are not going not see it through the smoke. So what is the sign? How do we know we are supposed discriminate against this person?

        • Your excuses for such patently improper behavior are ridiculous.

          If he was a white man giving out Neo-Nazi tracts on the job, the results would be the same. When one represents public authority like a fire chief, one cannot use the position for personal gain, nor to further personal political goals.

          Just by dint of giving out his book (REGARDLESS of the subject material) while in an official capacity is enough to get him canned for improper behavior and abuse of position.

          Since said book extols discriminatory positions, it makes matters worse. It gives the false impression the Fire Department not only endorses the ideas in the book, but has no problem with him engaging in his personal hobby on the job. Either one makes the city look foolish.

          He was an embarrassment to the position and deserved to be fired. It is telling that the ex-chief’s legal expenses are covered by an ultra-right wing mouthpiece organization looking for publicity.

    • Absolutely his personal views, to which he is entitled WITHOUT CENSURE.

      BUT…

      which he brought to his job and expressed when told in no uncertain terms that he should not.

    • Daniel Berry, NYC

      and I agree with you 100%. But the problem is that he took his personal beliefs where they didn’t belong by distributing his book to coworkers, some of whom properly complained about it, construing distribution of the book as harassment.

      Having said that, I think firing the dude was a little heavy-handed. But then, the gay community in Atlanta is large,vocal, and powerful.

      • George Nixon Shuler

        If he were an ordinary firefighter, I’d be with you all the way. But he was the Chief and thus has to be held to a higher standard. And all you said about the ATL LGBTs is argentum ad hominem. There is no indication they have done anything inappropriate. They would be right to complain about a rank bigot holding the office of chief.