Was The Dismissal of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran Unconstitutional?

| by Arthur Kogan
Kelvin Cochran.Kelvin Cochran.

Attorneys claim the decision made by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to terminate Kelvin Cochran, former Atlanta fire chief, was unconstitutional and a violation of his First Amendment rights for both free speech and religion.

Cochran was fired on Jan. 6 for distributing copies of his 2013 self-published book “Who Told You That You Are Naked?” in the workplace. According to The Christian Post, Cochran's book calls homosexuality "sexual perversion" and "vulgar" and also relates it to “bestiality.” 

Reed insists Cochran was not fired for his religious beliefs, but because he did not follow the correct protocol before writing his book.

The city’s ethic code requires a commissioner to get approval from the board of ethics. The Atlanta Code of Ethics states that:

Commissioners, deputy commissioners, department heads, chief operating officer, deputy chief operating officers, chief of staff, deputy chiefs of staff, bureau directors, and employees of the office of the mayor who report directly to the mayor shall not engage in any private employment or render any services for private interests for remuneration, regardless of whether such employment or service is compatible with or adverse to the proper discharge of the official duties of such employee. However, the employees named in this paragraph may engage in private employment or render services for private interests only upon obtaining prior written approval from the board of ethics in accordance with this paragraph.

According to an exclusive interview with The Christian Post, Cochran claims he did in fact have legal permission to write the book after speaking with Nina Hickson, the city’s ethics officer.

"I had legal authority to write the book, however, she cannot remember that conversation even though she doesn't deny her statements. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says I should've gotten permission from him and he used that as the basis of my termination," he said.

Before receiving approval from the board of ethics, the city’s Standards of Conduct required that Cochran receive secondary approval. Cochran argues that seeking secondary approval is not common practice.

Despite his comments about the LGBT community in his book, Cochran claims he still has a “love without condition” for all humankind.

"My spiritual convictions regarding sexuality do not equate to anger, hatred, or malice toward LGBT members," he said. "The greatest of my Christian values is a love without condition for all humankind. In the fire service, I have had the privilege to live out this virtue every day for the past 34 years — to the extent that I would lay down my life for anyone in the communities of which I have had the privilege to serve."

Cochran has received public support from all around the nation, including the Faith Driven Consumers advocacy group, which says it represents more than 41 million Christians. The group has called on the mayor to issue an apology to Cochran as well as to fully reinstate him as fire chief.  On Jan. 13, hundreds of supporters gathered at a rally and delivered a petition to Reed’s office with 50,000 signatures.

"Tolerance is a two-way street," said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kelvin Theriot. "That's what a federal appeals court said not long ago about public officials who claim to love diversity while only tolerating views they themselves favor.

“The city fired him for nothing other than his faith, and that's not constitutional.”


Sources: The Christian Post, City of Atlanta Code of Ethics  Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons