February 26, 2024
January 7, 2015
Atlanta Ousts Fire Chief Who Has Antigay Views
The New York Times by Richard Fausset ATLANTA — 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. Reed had suspended Mr. Cochran for a month without pay in November, opening an investigation into whether Mr. Cochran’s authorship and distribution of the book to workers violated the city’s nondiscrimination policies. That move sparked a debate about religious liberty and freedom of expression: Last month, the 1.4-million member Georgia Baptist Convention began an online petition that called for Mr. Cochran’s reinstatement and suggested his First Amendment rights had been violated. The matter also presents a challenge for Mr. Reed, a second-term Democrat who presides over a metropolis whose social mosaic is defined by strong expressions of Christianity and large and politically powerful gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual groups. At a news conference, Mr. Reed said that Mr. Cochran’s “personal religious beliefs are not the issue.” But Atlanta’s nondiscrimination policy, the mayor added, is “nonnegotiable.” “Despite my respect for Chief Cochran’s service, I believe his actions and decision-making undermine his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse work force,” Mr. Reed said. “Every single employee under the fire chief’s command deserves the certainty that he or she is a valued member of the team and that fairness and respect guide employment decisions.” 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. Mr. Reed added that the chief had not told him about the book and its “inflammatory content.” Mr. Cochran said that three city employees had received a copy of the book without asking for one. But he said that he had given it out only to members of the department whom he had established “a personal relationship with as Christians.” When he took the oath of office, Mr. Cochran said, it ended with the phrase “So help me God.” If glorifying God was a violation, he said, “I should have been fired at the very end of my oath.” The firing was condemned by the Georgia Baptist Convention, the Southern Baptist Convention’s state chapter, and by the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group founded by the Christian activist Ralph Reed. “I know in the mayor’s press conference he insisted that it’s not about religious freedom, but when someone is disciplined and ultimately terminated because of personal views expressed, that’s kind of the definition of a First Amendment issue,” said Timothy Head, the group’s executive director. Jeff Graham, the executive director of the L.G.B.T. group Georgia Equality, praised the mayor’s decision, as did the union, the Atlanta Professional Firefighters Local 134, which said that the city should use the opportunity to add an L.G.B.T. liaison for the fire department.
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