- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2015

Atlanta city officials say they were within their rights to fire former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran because he wrote — and offered for sale — a Christian book without permission and gave copies of it to nearly two dozen people at work.

The city’s brief, filed Wednesday, asked U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May to dismiss the wrongful-firing case against the city and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Attorneys for Mr. Cochran said Thursday the city’s response fell short.

“In America, a religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant, but that’s precisely what the city did,” said David Cortman, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

“That endangers everyone who works for the city who may hold to a belief that the city doesn’t like,” Mr. Cortman said. Moreover, the First Amendment “fully protects” the freedom of any public employee to distribute religious materials at work to those willing to receive them, “and no city rule — written or unwritten — can override that freedom.”

At issue are passages in Mr. Cochran’s 162-page, self-published book that reference biblical views of sex.

One passage says pursuing “sex outside the confines of marriage between a man and a woman — including fornication, homosexual acts, and all other types of non-marital sex — is contrary to God’s will.”

Another passage says “uncleanness,” or whatever is opposite of purity, includes sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality and all other forms of sexual perversion.

Mr. Cochran said he gave his book to around 20 people he worked with. “Most” of the people asked for it, and none objected, he has said.

The city attorneys noted that most of these people were subordinates of Mr. Cochran who may not have felt comfortable rejecting it.

Moreover, at least one person who got a copy of the book complained to a gay rights group — passages from the book were posted by the GA Voice blog in November 2014.

A complaint also went to Atlanta Councilman Alex Wan, with one person saying the book’s passages on sex were “opposed to his beliefs on the subject,” the city brief said.

The complaint to Mr. Wan “allegedly precipitated discussion of the matter” with top city officials, the city brief said.

The councilman, who is openly gay, has told the Atlanta Constitution-Journal that “when you’re a city employee and [your] thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door,” according to ADF attorneys.

Mr. Cochran was suspended without pay for 30 days in November and ordered to undergo “sensitivity training.”

He was fired on Jan. 6 and filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination a few weeks later.

In their brief, the city’s lawyers argued that city law requires department heads, such as Mr. Cochran, to not engage in any private employment or render any services for private remuneration without obtaining “prior written approval from the board of ethics.”

Mr. Cochran’s book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked? Overcoming the Stronghold of Condemnation,” became available for sale on Amazon.com at some point after being self-published in late 2013, the city brief said.

He has said he wrote the book as part of a men’s Bible study at his church, where he is a deacon and teacher. He has said he was fired “simply because of what I believe.”

Mr. Cochran’s attorneys argue that the First Amendment protects his rights to write a book on his free time. They and Mr. Cochran maintain that he talked about the book with a city ethics official before he wrote it, and then sent a copy of the book to Mr. Reed — even asking the mayor in January 2014 if he had gotten the book and read it.

Mr. Reed “confirmed that he had received it and that he was going to read it,” Mr. Cochran told WSB-TV 2 in Atlanta in February.

Mr. Cochran’s attorneys further note that an internal investigation showed that Mr. Cochran did not discriminate against anyone in his department and that he led a long, distinguished career, resulting in him being named “Fire Chief of the Year” in 2012 by Fire Chief magazine.

Cochran v. City of Atlanta is filed in U.S. District for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.

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