- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Attorneys for Kelvin J. Cochran were in federal court Wednesday, arguing that Atlanta’s former fire chief was wrongfully fired for his Christian beliefs.

“A religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant, but that’s what the city did,” Kevin Theriot, an attorney for Mr. Cochran, told NBC-TV 11 Alive after the hearing before U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May in Atlanta.

Attorneys for the City of Atlanta said Mr. Cochran was fired because he failed to get the required permission from a city ethics officer before he wrote a book that could be sold commercially.

The requirement is in the city’s Code of Ordinances, and says department heads cannot engage in “private employment” or “render any services for private interests for remuneration” without obtaining prior, written approval from the board of ethics.

City Attorney Robert Godfrey asked Judge May to dismiss case, which was filed earlier this year against Atlanta and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Judge May said she would soon issue her ruling in Cochran v. City of Atlanta.

Mr. Cochran, a respected fire chief and church deacon, had self-published a book in 2013 called, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” as part of his religious work with men and to help them live a “faith-filled, virtuous life.”

The book described adultery, fornication, lasciviousness and acts of “uncleanness” — including sodomy, homosexuality and lesbianism — as actions that are “contrary to God’s will.”

Mr. Cochran brought copies of his book to work, and shared it with several employees, including some subordinates at the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department.

At least one employee was offended by the book, and brought it to an openly gay member of the Atlanta City Council. That led to discussions by city officials, and on Nov. 24, 2014, the city suspended Mr. Cochran for 30 days without pay.

Mr. Cochran was fired on Jan. 6, 2015. He has since sued the city for wrongful termination and violation of his constitutional rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, freedom of association, equal protection and due process.

After Wednesday’s court hearing, Mr. Godfrey told NBC-TV’s 11 Alive reporter Duffie Dixon that he thought “it boils down to whether we allow someone to bring discriminatory ideas into the workplace and hand them around to employees and get away with it.”

Mr. Godfrey noted that Mr. Cochran was not just a regular employee, “but a high-ranking official in the mayor’s cabinet, who supervised over 1,100 people, who actually took an oath of office to uphold all the city’s policies including the nondiscrimination policy.”

Mr. Theriot and David Cortman, both of the Alliance Defending Freedom legal-defense group representing Mr. Cochran, said the city clearly fired their client because he holds and expresses religious beliefs that some city officials don’t like.

“That places every city employee in jeopardy who may hold to a belief that city officials don’t like,” Mr. Theriot told NBC-TV’s 11 Alive.

“Tolerance must apply to people of all different viewpoints, not just those who agree with the beliefs the government favors.”

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