Christianity,  News,  Politics

The firing of Atlanta fire chief is an intolerable precedent

No doubt by now you have read about the Fire Chief in Atlanta who was fired for his views on homosexuality. The New York Times

Mayor Kasim Reed announced Tuesday that he had fired the chief of the city’s Fire Rescue Department, Kelvin Cochran, after Mr. Cochran gave workers a religious book he wrote containing passages that condemn homosexuality…

Mr. Cochran, a firefighter for more than three decades, was chosen to lead the city’s department by Mr. Reed’s predecessor, Shirley Franklin, in 2008. He returned to the position in May 2010 after having served 10 months as fire administrator for the United States Fire Administration.

He is also a member of a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, which holds homosexuality to be sinful. Mr. Cochran’s book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” counts homosexual acts among a number of “vile, vulgar and inappropriate” activities that serve to “dishonor God,” according to excerpts obtained by the local gay news media and activists.

Mr. Cochran held his own news conference Tuesday. He said that the city’s investigation found that he had not acted in a discriminatory way toward gay people, and said that he had asked for, and received, permission from the proper bureaucratic channels to write the book — an assertion Mr. Reed’s office disputes.

Nevertheless, Mayor Reed seems to view the mere expression of these views as discriminatory. He writes:

I was surprised and disappointed to learn of this book on Friday. I profoundly disagree with and am deeply disturbed by the sentiments expressed in the paperback regarding the LGBT community. I will not tolerate discrimination of any kind within my administration.

Yet the Mayor offers no evidence of discrimination on Chief Cochran’s part—only that the chief holds these views and put them in a book. The book is not about homosexuality, but there is a single page that refers to homosexuality as one of many sexual behaviors that Christians view as sin. The Chief says that the only people he shared copies with were those who had already identified themselves as fellow Christians.

In his daily podcast, Albert Mohler gets to the heart of what is at stake in this case. The fire chief lost his job not because he discriminated against gay people, but because he believes that homosexuality is a sin. The fire chief is a Christian, and he believes what Christians have always believed about these things. Nevertheless, the Atlanta mayor now says expressing such a belief is incompatible with working for the City of Atlanta.

This raises the obvious question: Does this mean that Christians are no longer allowed to work for the city? Or perhaps that they are not allowed managerial positions if they hold to their church’s teaching on sexuality? You can listen to the rest of Mohler’s comments below or download here [commentary begins at 11:07].

In some ways, this case parallels that of Brendon Eich, former CEO of Mozilla who was forced out for his Christian views on marriage. But this case is worse. Mozilla is a private-sector company. The mayor of Atlanta is a government employer. That means that a city government is now complicit in suppressing freedom of religion and freedom of speech—rights that are established in the first article of the Bill of Rights. Will this precedent stand? That is the big question. If City Governments can now discriminate against Christians for their religious views, that will only be the beginning. This truly is an intolerable precedent, and I hope it doesn’t stand.


  • James Bradshaw

    Did these co-workers ask for the book or not?

    If Mr Cochran had handed out Chick tracts to Jews explaining why they were going to Hell, I could see where it would be considered inflammatory and might lead to “creating a hostile work environment”. If he handed them out to co-religionists with whom we attended church and who had requested the literature, then it’s not the same thing.

    These details matter.

    • buddyglass

      Agreed. To me, it seems totally kosher to fire someone for distributing literature to his employees (without being asked) that a reasonable person would consider likely to be regarded by those employees as patently offensive.

    • Denny Burk

      He says that he shared the book only after they had identified themselves as fellow Christians. The book is not about homosexuality. It is mentioned on one page as one of many sexual behaviors that Christians view as sin.

      • James Bradshaw

        It does appear that it was distributed to only three employees, and that these employees were Christians (although that doesn’t necessarily imply that they agreed with his views).

        Either way, I’m not comfortable with the way this played out. Had there been complaints by other employees that Cochran acted in a hostile manner towards them or that he used an excessive amount of work time to proselytize, that might warrant his dismissal.

        Most people have ideas or beliefs that others are going to find repugnant or that they simply disagree with, strongly or not. It’s almost impossible not to. You don’t destroy their livelihoods because of that, though, unless the work itself is seriously compromised.

      • Christiane Smith

        perhaps, if the three employees who were Christians were equal in authority to Mr. Cochran in the fire department, it would have been seen in a different way ???

        I’m not sure what the thinking was on the part of those who fired him. So it is very difficult to understand what disturbed them so much that they saw no other alternative than to take this man’s job (and I assume his pension) away from him.

        Without knowing more, I am left only with questions and wondering exactly how all of this went down . . .

        were there previous incidents, and ‘warnings’ given about distributing religious material on the job? was Mr. Cochran ever given any kind of heads up?

        who complained? and why?
        someone must have complained but it is said that the three recipients were Christian people ‘of like mind’ to Mr. Cochran’s understanding of certain issues.

        so many questions, DENNY

        maybe more will come out in time ???

        wondering if this will go to trial if Mr. Cochran sues, which well he might if he senses that he has a case that will stand up under the law in the courts

  • Ian Shaw

    Thoughts/beliefs are now illegal, not actions. The thought police are live and well.

    If an agnostic/atheist handed out tracks to co-workers talking about the evolutionary hypothesis/how God doesn’t exist, would he be fired?

  • Dal Bailey

    We are CHRISTIANS people! We WILL be persecuted like Jesus said we would be. We will be hated, reviled, laughed at and even KILLED. Stand proud and don’t relent your stand against perversion. Praise to God for this. It shows that Satan is still on the prowl to snare those he can and try and silence those who stand with and for God.

      • steve hays

        I’m aware of that, James. Doesn’t change the fact that when push came to shove, the feelings of offended LGBTs, including white LGBTs, trumped the rights of a black fire chief.

        Keep in mind that black liberals conform their views to the white liberal establishment. Take Jesse Jackson, who used to be prolife, but renounced that as the price for upward mobility in the Democrat party.

        • buddyglass

          I suspect if the police chief had been a gay white man and had given a book to his black subordinates that he should have reasonably expected them to find offensive then he’d have been fired as well. Especially in Atlanta.

  • Brian Levie

    As a retired career firefighter from a large city in the Southwest, I remember that nothing was off limits in the firehouse; living, eating, working together for days at a time, we would talk about everything under the sun, with many different viewpoints expressed on just about any subject you could imagine. That’s why I suspect that there’s some underlying political motivation behind this story rather than the LGBT issue; the higher the rank, the more politics plays a role in your career. Also, we don’t really know if the individual involved was a model employee or one who was a liability to the organization. This could be the opportunity the city was looking for to can him; hard to tell from what little I’ve read about it. I’m hesitant to think he was the victim of religious discrimination just yet.

    • Curt Day

      But isn’t there a difference between when a superior hands out non-pertinent information from when peers talk about subjects between themselves? I am retired from teaching, but while I was teaching, there were subjects I could not speak personally from that students could.

      • Brian Levie

        Curt- the firehouse consisted of mixed ranks on shift (officers, drivers, firefighters or “pipemen”) regarding the issue of superiors/peers mix, and the majority of our conversations were non-pertinent having little to do with the job. The living arrangements were not like a conventional office setting; we cooked, ate, slept, worked, laughed, argued, etc., together for 48 hours at a time. No subject was off limits. Christians, atheists, straight, gay, conservative, liberal, male, female – a unique situation with a shared sense of duty that united us. I realize that may not be the case everywhere, so it may not have been like this in Atlanta FD. Whether it was political correctness or plain old politics, we probably have not heard the last on this one.

  • Ryan Davidson

    The key fact here is that he distributed the book to the three employees without their having requested a copy. Because the employees did not request a copy of the book, the law makes a strong presumption that the Chief is seeking to influence the views of the book’s recipients and to suggest that agreement or disagreement with the book will have an influence on future advancement. Sure, there may be no issue here if the book didn’t condemn gay sex as sinful. But when the Chief hands out a book that condemns gay sex to employees without their consent, that’s clearly a different issue. It suggests that employees should share in the Chief’s views regarding gay sex, and suggests that employees can gain promotions by joining the Chief in condemning gay sex and be passed over for disagreeing with the Chief on this issue. And that’s where the rub lies. The Chief clearly abused his authority here. In my view, his firing is justified. It may not have been necessary under the circumstances, but it was justified.

    And it is not unexpected in a city where gay people make up roughly 14% of the population, and where gays and liberal whites account for much of the city’s property tax revenues. The Chief has to be wise enough to know his context.

    • steve hays

      It’s a tendentious redefinition of consent to imagine that handing out free literature “without the consent” of the recipient is nonconsensual. They don’t even have to read the book. Offering free literature which hasn’t been requested hardly violates the recipient’s autonomy.

      • Ryan Davidson


        In general, the law implies that such actions do restrict the recipients’ autonomy. If the law required an express quid pro quo (as opposed to an implied quid pro quo), you’d never convict anyone of bribery.

        • steve hays

          What if “the law” in question (a local regulation) represents an unconstitutional infringement on the free speech and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment?

          • Ryan Davidson

            The Chief appears to have passed out the unrequested books in a fairly private context, so the First Amendment is not applicable. Protected speech must relate to a “public concern” at the time when it was made. Employment-related matters, such as those at issue here, rarely satisfy the “public concern” threshold.

            Further, government employees enjoy narrower First Amendment protections for speech made in the context of doing their jobs, as any statements or conduct related to religion could cause the city to run afoul of the Establishment Clause (as appearing to favor Christian firefighters over non-Christian firefighters).

            • steve hays

              Do you have any evidence that he was “favoring” Christian employees?

              There are tradeoffs in a free society. Liberals used to be champions of the First Amendment–like the late Anthony Lewis of the NYT.

              Now people like you think citizens need to be bubble-wrapped to protect them from perceived “microaggressions.”

              Originally, the Established Clause allowed states to have officially recognized denominations. Church services were held in Congress. Congress appropriated funds for missionary outreach to American Indians. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad. But that reflects the scope of original intent.

              You’re indulging in an anachronistic interpretation of the First Amendment which would be unrecognizable to the framers and the 13 states that ratified the Bill of Rights.

              • Johnny Mason

                Ryan is doing everything he can to justify or rationalize the firing of this man, because he knows, deep-down that it was wrong. This man has an impeccable career. He has no history of discrimination, or favoritism, or any actions that would bring into question the motives attributed to this man. He was honored by the President because of his stellar career. And now we are to believe that writing a book somehow means he is going to prevent people from being promoted or influence future promotions. It is laughable.

                I mean he compares the giving of a book to bribery and extortion. A. Book.

                Did the ones who received the book even complain? This whole thing is being concocted by the gay mafia, and Ryan and his ilk are happy to toe the party line.

            • steve hays

              Ryan, your argument is circular. I point out that the restrictions infringe on Constitutional civil liberties. You reply by appealing to restrictions on civil liberties. But that’s the very issue in dispute. Appealing to restrictions to justify restrictions is viciously circular. You can’t simply invoke the current status quo to defend the status quo without begging the question.

              Here’s an example of how the Establish Clause allows for, as understood by the Founding Fathers:


              • Ryan Davidson


                It’s your argument that’s circular. Simply referring to something as “Constitutional” does not make it so. Nothing I’ve written is inconsistent with existing case law.

                Based on the facts that have made their way into the public domain, it appears to me that the city’s action was legally justified. That doesn’t mean that the city’s actions were legally necessary or that the city’s actions were wise. I think a public reprimand may have been more appropriate.

                • steve hays

                  I didn’t merely refer to something as Constitutional. Rehnquist gives extensive historical documentation in the opinion I linked to.

                  • Ryan Davidson

                    That was a case about the Establishment Clause. The rights that you claim were violated would arise under the Free Speech Clause. I merely brought up the Establishment Clause to explain why municipalities may elect to promulgate regulations such as those that the Chief violated. The Constitutional validity of the regulation itself has nothing to do with the Establishment Clause. So, the citation to Wallace is of no moment. Mind you, even if Wallace were relevant, citation to a lone dissent isn’t exactly persuasive authority.

                    • steve hays

                      I was responding to you on your own terms, but you’re free to backpedal.

                      This is not an appeal to authority. I cited him for his documentation. Do you not know the difference between historical evidence and an argument from authority?

                    • Ryan Davidson


                      I’m not backpedaling. Perhaps I just wasn’t clear above. I apologize for any confusion.

                      For a helpful review of the problems with originalism, see Judge Posner’s brilliant essay in TNR a few years back. BTW…I think it’s an immense travesty that Judge Posner was never appointed to the Supreme Court. He is unquestionably our country’s greatest legal mind since Justice Holmes.


                    • steve hays

                      I’ve read Posner. Basically, he doesn’t think the Bill of Rights has any objective meaning. It merely means whatever meaning judges assign to it.

                    • Johnny Mason

                      Judge Posner has such a brilliant mind that he cant even agree with himself. In 1992 he was against gay marriage and courts overturning state laws against SSM (in his book “Sex and Reason”), In 2005, he said this: ““I disagree with contentions that the Constitution should be interpreted to require state recognition of homosexual marriage on the ground that it is a violation of equal protection of the laws to discriminate against homosexuals by denying them that right.” And yet in 2014, that is exactly what he did.

                      He is the worst kind of Judge, once who does not apply law with reason, but with the prevailing winds of the day.

                    • steve hays

                      Agreed. Judges like Posner can’t be trusted with power. No one elected judges to make social policy. That’s not their proper role.

                      It comes down to the question of whether we think the society should consist of a ruling class that plays the role of official adults, treating other citizens as minors who require parental permission for whatever they say or do. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Americans who wish to be treated like children.

                    • Ryan Davidson

                      The two of you seem to have something of an axe to grind here.

                      The Bill of Rights has no fixed meaning. It states broad aspirational principles that are often in tension with each other. It is the duty of an unelected judiciary–uninfluenced by the short-sighted prejudices of the masses–to balance out those tensions in a pragmatic way in view of our current circumstances. By your logic, we’d still have whites-only lunch counters.

                      In 1992, there was a legitimate basis for bans on same-sex marriage: Many states had laws criminalizing sodomy. No state has such laws today. Further, we have 20+ additional years of observing same-sex coupling, and have come to realize that it poses no substantial risk to the social order and, in fact, often leads to increased social stability.

                      None of us can see much ahead of where we walk. We’re often going to be wrong, and will need to adjust our views in light of what we learn along life’s journey. That’s what wisdom is all about. That’s why legal pragmatism is more likely to lead to justice than originalism. Pragmatism forces one to grapple with the facts. Originalism lets one ignore the facts and cloak one’s personal prejudices with the apparent aegis of history. This isn’t hard to do, as Judge Posner points out. There’s no reason why originalism must be tied with conservatism. Originalism is merely the crutch of those whose views aren’t supported well by the evidentiary record, so they reach back into history to dredge up the evidence that suits their preferred policy outcomes. The pragmatist is much less likely to do this.

                      I’ll probably end the discussion here. You both seem to be arguing with your preferred policy outcomes already in mind. That’s the joy of being a pragmatism: You can approach each issue with no preferred outcome in mind except for a desire to let the evidence speak.

                    • steve hays

                      “The Bill of Rights has no fixed meaning. It states broad aspirational principles that are often in tension with each other. It is the duty of an unelected judiciary–uninfluenced by the short-sighted prejudices of the masses–to balance out those tensions in a pragmatic way in view of our current circumstances.”

                      Our system of gov’t is based on popular sovereignty. The consent of the governed.

                      The electorate expresses its will through its chosen representatives. Duly elected lawmakers pass laws, responsive to their voting constituents.

                      It is the job of judges to interpret the law, consistent with legislative intent, in order to apply the law to specific cases.

                      It’s clear that you, by contrast, repudiate the democratic process. You disdain the consent of the governed.

                      The Constitution applies to the judiciary, too. It’s the Constitution that authorizes the scope of the judiciary. Judges aren’t supposed to be independent of the Constitution. They don’t have the prerogative to unilaterally rewrite our social contract.

                      You have a totalitarian outlook in which an unaccountable ruling class imposes social policy on everyone else.

                      “By your logic, we’d still have whites-only lunch counters.”

                      How did you derive that from the Bill of Rights?

                      “That’s why legal pragmatism is more likely to lead to justice than originalism.”

                      It isn’t the job of judges to produce (allegedly) just outcomes. That’s the job of lawmakers. Given your attitude, we might as well abolish the legislative branch.

                      “Pragmatism forces one to grapple with the facts.”

                      You operate with a naive positivism. But facts don’t tell you what is just or unjust.

                      “Originalism lets one ignore the facts and cloak one’s personal prejudices with the apparent aegis of history.”

                      You also have the naive notion that judges like Posner are exempt from personal prejudice.

                      “Originalism is merely the crutch of those whose views aren’t supported well by the evidentiary record, so they reach back into history to dredge up the evidence that suits their preferred policy outcomes.”

                      No, Originalism is based on the consent of the governed. A nation of laws rather than a ruling class that’s unanswerable to anyone else.

                      You’re a totalitarian, which is ironic for a professed pragmatist, Totalitarian regimes end badly.

                      “That’s the joy of being a pragmatism: You can approach each issue with no preferred outcome in mind except for a desire to let the evidence speak.”

                      If you really believe that, then you’re hopelessly naive. Evidence doesn’t distinguish just from unjust outcomes. You’re committing the naturalist fallacy of inferring ought from is.

                      Your pragmatism is the caboose, drawn by the choo choo train of your own unexamined prejudices.

  • Sandra Stewart

    The problem arose due to the fact he identified himself as the Atlanta fire chief in the book, declaring that his first priority as chief was to run the department “to cultivate its culture to the glory of God.”
    There are a number of ethical issues here that have bearing on this case. The did he have permission is a he said, she said, as to whether he had permission. I personally would not have accepted a verbal acceptance, which she denies, (and would have required a written statement). I am inclined to believe he did not as he violated a basic ethical principle in identifying him self as the firechief of Atlanta. This would imply that he was in his official position espousing a policy that is in opposition to the legal nondiscrimination policy of Atlanta. Legally this was used in a case here in Toledo where an individual identified her self in her writing as an employe of the university, had she not done that she would still have a job.
    The second ethical error was in giving it to subordinates. Any time you have such a large power differential pushing your beliefs on some one else is questionable.

    • steve hays

      Handing out a book compels no one to read it or believe it. This trivializes the notion of consent and compulsion.

      Moreover, who was he discriminating against?

    • Christiane Smith

      I can agree that it would be wrong for a subordinate employee to be placed in a situation where his superior is proselytizing. I have no access to Mr. Cochran’s book, so I cannot know the ‘context’ . . . my own thinking is that I would hope someone would speak with Mr. Cochran about the ethical issues involved and give him an opportunity to address and correct any issues that might imperil his job. That way, there would be no question about ‘how he was treated’ . . . but unfortunately it looks like people either weren’t talking to each other in a positive way or were talking past each other, which inflamed the situation. With some really good leadership, Mr. Cochran might have been given an opportunity to re-think and work out those issues that directly had a bearing on his role as the Chief who supervised the employees to which he was giving his book.

      I suppose it’s too late for a responsible and positive outcome, but it IS a shame . . . there may come a time when people will lay aside what offends others and begin to listen and communicate to one another with a thought to setting some guidelines more clearly about issues of ‘free speech’ where they intersect with employment ethics. The present atmosphere needs to be ‘reset’ . . . and it might be a good idea for Christian people to take the lead in helping to resolve crises where they are involved in a way that honors Our Lord whose ways are different from our own broken ways. God can take a troubling situation and bring good out of it, but He does it differently than we would. 🙂

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