I am Kelvin Cochran

Carolyn Moynihan
12 January 2015
Reproduced with Permission

Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran was fired last Tuesday by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Cochran has been a firefighter since 1981 and was appointed Atlanta's fire chief in 2008. In 2009, President Obama appointed him as U. S. Fire Administrator for the United States Fire Administration in Washington, D. C. In 2010 he returned to serve as Atlanta's fire chief.

After 34 years of service he must have done something pretty bad to get fired, so what was it? Did he let someone's house burn down? Nope. Did he suddenly get incompetent at dealing with his staff? Did he launch an unauthorised, bold new plan to reform the fire service in Atlanta? No, and no.

He wrote and published a book about sex. It is called, Who Told You That You Were Naked? - the question God asks Adam and Eve after the Fall in Genesis -- to provide guidance to a men's Bible study group embarking on a study, "A Quest for Authentic Manhood." In it, the Baptist deacon and teacher gives a theological interpretation of Biblical texts on sex. That was in 2013.

Ryan Anderson at The Daily Signal continues the story:

In late 2014, retired Atlanta Fire Department Capt. Cindy Thompson contacted GA Voice, a Georgian LGBT group , to protest Cochran's book and its mention of homosexuality. Thompson then brought the book to the Mayor's LGBT liaison, Robin Shahar. Soon afterwards, LGBT activist groups began to rally for the fire chief to be fired.

The activists point to only one page in the book which mentions homosexuality as one among many sexual sins from a Christian perspective.

Mayor Reed promptly responded to the activists, issuing Chief Cochran a month-long without-pay suspension , ordering him to undergo sensitivity training, and then - after a month's investigation - dismissing the chief. At a news conference, Reed summarized his reasons for dismissing the fire chief, "This is about judgment… This is not about religious freedom, this is not about free speech… Judgment is the basis of the problem."

But it is about free speech, Ryan points out, and not about discriminatory practical judgements Cochran might make (since he hasn't made any yet):

Yet a month earlier Reed released a statement saying , "I profoundly disagree with and am deeply disturbed by the sentiments expressed in the paperback regarding the LGBT community. I will not tolerate discrimination of any kind within my administration." But the mayor never pointed to any acts of discrimination from Cochran. He only disagreed with the book the chief wrote.

The mayor also stated that he believes Cochran's book may leave the city vulnerable to potential for litigation, although it is unclear how this might be the case. In 34 years of service, Cochran has never been accused of discrimination by any employee, and Reed did not release any evidence of discrimination after the month-long investigation.

Since that is the case, another of Reed's stated reasons for firing Cochran -- that the book may leave the city vulnerable to potential for litigation - looks weak. And his accusation that the fire chief did not consult him before publishing the book does not match the facts:

… Cochran says he did confer with the city's ethics officer before publishing the book and was granted verbal permission. Cochran also reported that he gave a copy of the book to the mayor's executive assistant in January 2014 - 10 months before the suspension.

Ryan goes on to point out that Reed's actions are not in line with Supreme Court rulings that "so long as employees are speaking as citizens about matters of public concern, they must face only those speech restrictions that are necessary for their employers to operate efficiently and effectively."

Does Cochran's "speech" on matters of sexual morality interfere with the Atlanta Fire Service's ability to do its job? Only if the job depends on appeasing gay activist groups whenever they object to an employee's opinions. As Ryan says, "would an Atlanta citizen who is gay be afraid to dial 911 if his house was burning down, simply because he heard about Cochran's book? Not likely."

At a moment when, because of the terrorist killings of the Charlie Hebdo staff and six other victims in Paris, free speech -- no matter how provocative -- is being defended with almost religious fervour, it is deeply ironic that a sincere Christian is being persecuted for publishing views which, until five minutes ago historically, were absolutely mainstream.

(There is, however, a little "I am Kelvin Cochran" style campaign building in the Amazon reviews .)

But of course it is not the only instance: among others Ryan Anderson himself has been identified by a New York Times reporter as a person "unworthy of respect" for his views on marriage policy. Indeed, one hardly has to speak at all on the subject to be accused of illegal discrimination or bigotry - just saying no to a wedding cake order or making a private donation could wreck your career/livelihood just as effectively as writing a whole book.

If people like Kelvin Cochran can lose their jobs for publishing their views on sexual morality, not all the candlelight vigils and solemn marches in the world will save free speech.