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Remember the Fire Chief Atlanta Fired After He Wrote an Anti-Gay Book? And Then He Sued? He Just Lost.

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‘It Was Not Unreasonable for the City to Fear Public Erosion of Trust in the Fire Department’

Remember Kelvin Cochran, the former Fire Chief of Atlanta, who was first suspended then fired after he wrote and had a supervisor hand out copies of his egregiously anti-gay book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” That book likens homosexuality topederasty, bestiality,” and “all other forms of sexual perversion.” It also calls sex between two people of the same gender “vile, vulgar and inappropriate,” and says by engaging in same-gender sex men “defile their body-temple and dishonor God.”

Cochran decided to become a martyr, claiming his First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion were violated, and ultimately sued. He was represented by the anti-gay Christian legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF represents other anti-gay plaintiffs as well, including baker Jack Phillips whose Masterpiece Cakeshop case was just heard at the U.S. Supreme Court.

A federal court on Wednesday ruled in favor of the City of Atlanta and Mayor Kasim Reed, stating they had the right – for a number of reasons – to fire Chief Cochran. Cochran won two points, including finding a city rule unconstitutional, but his firing was upheld.

The Court ruling says Cochran, while under suspension, “described his situation as a time of ‘spiritual warfare’ and stated that he was ‘grateful for this divine opportunity to suffer this for Christ and rejoicing every day.'”

Here’s a key passage in the court’s ruling:

“The Court also finds that Plaintiff’s status as the Fire Chief—and thus the head of a safety agency—also favors the City. Because Plaintiff expressed his opinion that the death of all individuals who engage in homosexual and extramarital sex would be celebrated, it was not unreasonable for the City to fear public erosion of trust in the Fire Department.”

The court also found it was not “unreasonable” for the City “to fear that Plaintiff’s employees—who are required to risk their lives daily—would be unwilling or unable to rely on Plaintiff’s leadership given his views about them.”

The ruling also says that due to Cochran’s acceptance of a social media campaign against Mayor Reed, the mayor received “phone calls to his home in which he was called a racial slur, the Anti-Christ, and a terrorist. Some calls even included death threats.”

Cochran’s “speech caused such an actual and possible disruption that it does not warrant First Amendment protection in the workplace,” the ruling adds.

The court ruled against Cochran’s “claims of First Amendment free speech retaliation; First Amendment freedom of association retaliation; viewpoint discrimination; violation of the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion and the no religious tests clause of article VI, cl. 3 of the Constitution; and, violation of Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process.”

The court did find the City’s policy of an employee having to obtain permission before publishing a book too broad, and will rule on that after both parties submit opinions.

“This lawsuit was never about religious beliefs or the First Amendment,” Atlanta City Attorney Jeremy Berry told the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “Rather, it is an employment matter involving an executive in charge of more than 1,100 firefighters and tasked to lead by example.”

Alvin McEwen at Holy Bullies adds that a “press release by ADF omitted a lot of information as to what the court actually said. In truth, Cochran won on only two claims he filed. However, he lost on the claims of free speech retaliation, viewpoint discrimination, and association.”

“Those last three were major claims because ADF and others of its ilk was pushing this as a ‘religious freedom case.'”

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Image via FEMA

Ruling via Equality Case Files

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