- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2015

Atlanta pastors and allies are gathering Tuesday to support a fire chief who was suspended and then fired for writing a religious book for men — that explicitly rejected homosexuality as an immoral behavior.

Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired Jan. 6 by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

In November, Mr. Cochran was suspended without pay for a month and asked to undergo sensitivity training for authoring — and sharing at work — a self-published book that referred to homosexuality as “sexual perversion.”

Mike Griffin, an official with the Georgia Baptist Convention, has worked with others to organize the “Standing for Our Faith Rally.”

“Now is the time for all Bible-believing Christians to show their support for Chief Cochran’s courage and for our First Amendment rights as American citizens,” Mr. Griffin and Garland Hunt said in their flyer for the rally, which will be held in the afternoon at the Georgia Capitol Rotunda.

“The idea that the government can force public servants to surrender their First Amendment rights is outrageous,” said Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins, who will attend the rally Tuesday.

The FRC says it has gathered nearly 28,000 petitions over the last few days protesting “the overreach of government authority” that resulted in Mr. Cochran’s firing.

Mr. Cochran “was persecuted and denied his career because of his privately held religious beliefs,” said Franklin Graham, president and chief executive CEO of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

“This is true discrimination,” Mr. Graham said in a message urging Christians to attend the rally.

In 2013, Mr. Cochran self-published a book on biblical morality for a men’s Bible study group at his Baptist church.

Later, after discussing the issue with some Christian co-workers, Mr. Cochran offered them copies of “Who Told You That You Were Naked?”

According to the FRC, Mr. Cochran had his superiors’ approval to write the book, and only offered the book to friends.

But his sections on “biblical morality” for men outraged some readers, and a local gay rights media outlet, the GA Voice, began calling city officials for comment on it.

The book’s sections included a definition of “uncleanness” as “whatever is opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, all other forms of sexual perversion.”

Another passage said, “Naked men refuse to give in, so they pursue sexual fulfillment through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, the same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways which defile their body-temple and dishonor God.”

The GA Voice asked for comment about the book, and was told by a spokeswoman for Mr. Reed that his administration “was not notified of the book before it was published.”

Atlanta laws prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as other characteristics, and the Reed administration “will not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” his spokeswoman told the GA Voice.

Mr. Reed has said elsewhere that Mr. Cochran’s personal religious beliefs “are not the issue.” Mr. Cochran was fired for poor judgment and insubordination during his initial suspension, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which got a copy of an investigation into the Cochran matter.

Mr. Reed’s decision to fire Mr. Cochran was supported by openly gay City Councilman Alex Wan, who said the fire chief’s actions “made it a difficult work environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees within the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department.”

Mr. Perkins disagreed, saying Monday that “Mayor Reed is sending a very clear message that Christians must check their faith at the door of public service.

Sadly, there are other instances where people in public service are threatened or punished if they serve in Sunday School, lead Bible studies, write books, “or believe anything contrary to government dictates,” Mr. Perkins said.

Mr. Cochran is a deacon and Sunday School teacher at the 19,000-member Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta, which is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention. Craig Oliver Sr. serves as pastor of the church, according to the Christian Index, a biweekly religious newspaper in Duluth, GA.

Mr. Cochran told the Baptist Press that “under no circumstances have I been discriminatory or hateful towards any member of the department in the LGBT community or a member of the LGBT community at large.”

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