Atlanta's Mayor Dismantles “Religious Freedom” Defense Of Terminated Anti-Gay Fire Chief

Conservative media are falsely claiming that Atlanta's anti-gay fire chief was fired from his job because of his Christian faith, ignoring the unprofessional behavior that actually led to his termination.

On January 6, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed terminated Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, following a month-long suspension which began as a response to anti-gay comments Cochran made in a self-published 2013 religious book.

Cochran was suspended after employees complained about inflammatory remarks in his book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?,” which included calling homosexuality a “perversion” akin to bestiality and pederasty. Cochran had distributed copies of his book to employees at the fire department.  

Cochran's suspension and eventual firing prompted a predictable reaction from right-wing commentators decrying alleged Christian persecution. Fox News contributor Erick Erickson claimed that Cochran had been fired for "being a Christian," while Fox News reporter Todd Starnes suggested that Cochran was being persecuted for his religious beliefs.

But in a January 6 press conference, Mayor Reed stressed that the decision to fire Cochran wasn't based on his religious beliefs:

The mayor said he decided to terminate Cochran not just because the fire chief didn't consult him before publishing the book, but also spoke out about his suspension despite being told to remain quiet during the investigation into his leadership. What's more, Reed said he believes Cochran opened up the city to the potential for litigation over future discrimination claims.

Reed stressed that his decision is not because of Cochran's faith: “His religious (beliefs) are not the basis of the problem. His judgment is the basis of the problem.”

Mayor Reed went on to urge his audience to “stop trying to make this about religious freedom”: 

Cochran's anti-gay remarks also brought up reasonable concerns about his ability to avoid violating Atlanta's non-discrimination policy. In his book, Cochran explicitly states that his priority as chief of Atlanta's fire department is to “cultivate its culture to the glory of God.” As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookan explained:

When you have more than 1,000 people working under your command, you can't go around publicly suggesting that some of them are perverts on a par with those who indulge in bestiality or child sexual abuse, as Cochran did in a self-published book. When you serve as a top manager in a government that has pledged not to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation, you can't suggest to workers that such discrimination might be justified, as Cochran did by distributing copies of that book to his subordinates.