Article Feb 20, 2015

Explainer: Atlanta Fire Chief fired over religious book

Why was Atlanta’s fire chief fired?

In January Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran because he had self-published a book on Christian manhood in which he describes homosexuality as a “perversion” like bestiality and pedophilia, and characterizes homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate.”

Mayor Reed had first suspended Cochran for 30 days and announced that he would have to complete “sensitivity training” after activists who disagreed with Cochran’s Christian views on sex complained about the book. The City of Atlanta initiated an investigation that led to the chief’s being fired.

The mayor later argued that his firing of the chief had nothing to do with Cochran’s Christian faith, but rather with a lack of judgment on the part of a man charged with managing a 750-member department.

Who is Kelvin Cochran?

Kelvin J. Cochran was, until his dismissal, the fire chief of Atlanta Fire Rescue Department. Before going to Atlanta he has previously spent nearly thirty years with the Shreveport, Louisiana Fire Department. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him as U.S. Fire Administrator for the United States Fire Administration in Washington, D.C. He returned to Atlanta in 2010 at the urging of Mayor Reed.

Cochran has served as 1st vice president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and president of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association. He also authored two chapters  (Chapter 1, “Leadership and Management,” and Chapter 25, “The Fire Chief of the Future”) for the Chief Fire Officers Desk Reference. In 2012, Fire Chief magazine named Cochran “Fire Chief of the Year.”

Cochran is a deacon and a Sunday School teacher at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta.

What did the investigation reveal?

An investigative report by the City of Atlanta found:

  • Cochran did not seek approval to publish the book. Cochran disputes this claim.
     
  • Cochran originally stated that he provided the book to certain members of his command staff as a personal gift and did not provide it to anyone who did not request a copy. The investigation disclosed that the book was distributed in the workplace to at least 9 individuals, including 3 officers who claimed the book was given to them without a request on their part. Cochran later acknowledged that he had given these three individuals unsolicited copies of the book.
     
  • The investigation found no indication that Chief Cochran allowed his religious beliefs to compromise his disciplinary decisions. However, they found there was a “general agreement the contents of the book have eroded trust and have compromised the ability of the chief to provide leadership in the future.”

Was Cochran fired because of his Christian beliefs?

According to Alliance Defending Freedom, city officials have publicly admitted that Cochran was fired because of 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,” said City Councilman Alex Wan to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in November. Wan was a leader in the campaign to oust Cochran.

Mayor Reed also told USA Today, “I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs and is inconsistent with the administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all citizens…”


What happens now?

Cochran filed an administrative complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January claiming he was discriminated against because of his Christian beliefs.

Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom have also filed a federal lawsuit on Cochran’s behalf. The lawsuit claims the “Defendants fired Cochran solely because he holds religious beliefs concerning same-sex marriage and homosexual conduct that are contrary to the Mayor’s and the City’s views on these subjects, and because he expressed those beliefs in the non-work-related, religious book he self-published.”
 

See also:Chief Kelvin Cochran suspended for telling the truth” by J. Gerald Harris