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Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran

WATCH: How an Atlanta Fire Chief Was Fired for His Faith

By Caroline Roberts posted on:
June 3, 2021

Should endorsing a certain view of marriage and sexuality be a prerequisite for fighting fires?

The City of Atlanta seemed to think so.

You see, after serving as a firefighter for 34 years—including a stint as the U.S. Fire Administrator during Barack Obama’s presidency—the City of Atlanta’s Fire Chief was abruptly fired. His offense? He expressed his Christian views on marriage and sexuality in a self-published devotional book.

Kelvin Cochran was only five years old when he decided that he wanted to help others by becoming a firefighter.

As a young boy growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana, Kelvin was inspired by the firefighters who came to the rescue of a neighbor whose house had caught on fire. He immediately knew that was what he wanted to do, and years later, he joined the Shreveport Fire Department.

But at that time, the Shreveport fire department was still segregated; black firefighters had separate dormitories from the white firefighters. They even ate from separate plates and utensils.

Kelvin not only witnessed discrimination—he was on the receiving end of it. Because of this he decided if he was ever in a position of leadership, he would make it his goal to ensure that no on else was a victim of discrimination.

“I would ensure…that there would be no racism, sexism, favoritism, or nepotism,” he remarks. “I took that conviction with me as I advanced in my career, first as fire chief in Shreveport, and later as fire chief of the City of Atlanta.”

Chief Cochran’s faithfulness to his convictions paid off, and others started noticing his leadership skills. In 2009, he left his job as fire chief to go to Washington, D.C. and be the first African-American to serve as U.S. Fire Administrator. But when the honorable Kasim Reed was elected mayor of Atlanta, he begged Chief Cochran to come back to Atlanta to resume his duties as fire chief. After praying about it, he accepted the offer and returned to Georgia.

But unfortunately, Chief Cochran wouldn’t serve in that position for long. And he would once again experience discrimination—but this time, for his beliefs.

After one year in Georgia, Chief Cochran wrote and self-published a devotional book for a men’s Bible study. He hoped this book would encourage other men to live out their faith and pursue a virtuous life. The book included six pages on the Bible’s teaching regarding sexual morality.

Before publishing it though, Chief Cochran checked twice with the City of Atlanta’s ethics officer to ensure he wasn’t violating any policies and that in his author’s bio, he could include the fact that he was serving as Atlanta’s fire chief. She assured Chief Cochran he was safe. Afterwards, he sent copies to some Christian colleagues, as well as Mayor Reed and City Council members.

A year after the devotional was published, Mayor Reed announced that because he and some others disagreed with Chief Cochran’s book, he was being suspended from his position for 30 days. Chief Cochran was also required to go through sensitivity training and was investigated for discrimination.

Chief Cochran’s record was completely clean, but it didn’t matter. Mayor Reed fired him anyway. And that was a violation of Chief Cochran’s First Amendment rights.

So, Alliance Defending Freedom stepped in to help Chief Cochran by filing a federal lawsuit—and we won.

No one should be forced to choose between their job or their faith. No one should be forced to give up a childhood dream because of their religious beliefs. And no one should be silenced because they don’t subscribe to the government’s preferred views.

When that happens, you can rest assured that ADF is ready to stand for freedom.

Learn more about what you can do to defend freedom of conscience.

Learn More

Caroline Roberts, Strategic Communications Writer

Caroline Roberts

Strategic Communications Writer

Caroline Roberts serves as a Strategic Communications Writer at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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