Defending liberty, receiving justice: An important victory for Chief Kelvin Cochran

October 22, 2018

On November 24, 2014, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed suspended the city’s Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran for 30 days without pay. What was the reason for his suspension? Chief Cochran authored a book on Christian values titled, Who Told You That You Were Naked.

In his book, Cochran argues the only way to fulfilling one’s purpose as a husband, father, and community leader is through faith in the redemption brought about by Christ for sinners. He calls men to serve Christ by being faithful husbands and fathers. The part of the book that led to his suspension was a few pages in which he advocated for the historic, orthodox Christian view of marriage between a man and a woman.

During his 30-day suspension, an investigation was launched by the City of Atlanta to uncover any discriminatory behavior by Chief Cochran while in office. The results of the investigation cleared Cochran from any discriminatory behavior as head of the Atlanta Fire Department. In spite of the investigation, Cochran was still fired at the end of his suspension.

For more than three years, Chief Cochran and his attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom fought the unjust termination until December 20, 2017, when a federal district court ruled that the city’s policy regarding the approval of speech outside of the workplace was unconstitutional. Their non-work speech policy allowed for city officials to discriminate against employees who held differing views, including differing religious views. As a result, Chief Cochran filed a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta. On Monday, October 15, 2018, Atlanta settled by agreeing to pay their former fire chief $1.2 million for wrongful termination.

The significance of the recent ruling

The significance of this ruling must not be missed. First, the person who was fired is significant. The employee terminated was not a fresh recruit or a disgruntled co-worker, but the accomplished fire chief. Cochran’s career as a firefighter began in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1981. He later recalled the racial discrimination he endured by not being allowed to sleep in the same area with the white firefighters and not being allowed to use the same dishes as the white firefighters. Despite this adversity, Cochran became the first African-American fire chief of Shreveport in 1999.

His success as a fire chief led him to be  appointed as the US Fire Administrator, the top firefighter position in the country, by President Barack Obama in 2009. After his service as US Fire Administrator, Cochran was appointed to serve as fire chief of the Atlanta Fire Department in 2010. He served in that position until his firing in 2014. Kelvin Cochran was not only the fire chief of one of the largest fire departments in the South, but he had held the highest position a firefighter could hold in the country. His firing signaled to the rest of the country that no matter who you are, you too can be terminated for holding a historic Christian view of marriage.

Second, the circumstance of the firing is significant. Chief Cochran was not fired for teaching his views on marriage in a workplace training seminar for all of his cadets. Nor was he fired for discriminating against others for their views on human sexuality in the hiring process. Instead, he was fired for holding Christian views and writing about his faith in his spare time. The ruling defended and awarded Cochran’s Constitutionally protected right to free speech in allowing him the ability to publish books inspired by his faith.

The court ruling is not only a win for Kelvin Cochran but also religious liberty for all. Though this case came down to the right to free speech, it also included the necessity of religious liberty for all people. What brought about the displeasure and fury of Atlanta’s city council? The answer is Cochran’s biblical views on the sanctity of marriage. The city council believed his views were not only out of step with their own, but also dangerous and worthy of termination. Cochran’s belief on marriage as between one man and one woman is  not novel or extreme. His views are what Christians have historically taught over two millennia. Cochran’s victory means that private businesses and the government could incur financial penalties in the future if they choose to fire employees for holding similar views on sexuality.

If the once-top firefighter of the country could lose his job for advocating for his religious beliefs outside of the workplace, then what chance does the average employee have? The court, however, ruled correctly and awarded Cochran for his wrongful termination. Advocates for liberty on all sides of the religious debate should rejoice in this decision. The conscience belongs to God, not the government. And with this ruling, government entities and private companies have once again been put on notice regarding the limits of their authority.

Corey Smith

Corey is married to his high school sweetheart, Hope. They are blessed to have two children, Penny Jo and Conrad. He received his M.Div. and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Preaching from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Corey also serves as a Pastoral Candidate at Heritage Baptist Church in Shreveport, … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24