Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran has dedicated his life to protecting others.
For 30 years he did that as a firefighter, selflessly serving his community and his country at the highest levels. (He served as the U.S. Fire Administrator under President Barack Obama and led the City of Atlanta to attain the highest level of fire and rescue preparedness for the first time in its history.)
But that all came to an end in 2015 when the City of Atlanta fired him – all because he wrote a men’s devotional book in his spare time that briefly mentions his views on a biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality. The city did not approve of Chief Cochran’s book. After a 30-day suspension without pay, an order to complete “sensitivity training,” and an investigation into his conduct (which showed he had never discriminated against anyone in the fire department), his dream career came to an abrupt halt.
Chief Cochran was fired for writing about his faith on his own time, but his instinct to protect others never wavered.
For the past three years, Chief Cochran was involved in a lawsuit against Atlanta for his wrongful termination – standing not only for his rights, but also for the rights of all city employees.
In December, a federal district court recognized that the City of Atlanta’s actions were unconstitutional. The court struck down Atlanta’s policy that requires government employees to receive permission before engaging in free speech outside of their jobs – which is the policy the city used to justify firing Chief Cochran.
This week, the City of Atlanta agreed to pay $1.2 million in a settlement, recognizing that Chief Cochran had suffered unconstitutional harm.
To Chief Cochran, though, this legal battle was never just about him.
He stood for all government employees, who now benefit from this win. They no longer have to worry about losing their jobs if they choose to engage in their First Amendment rights outside of work – even if the government does not approve of their viewpoints.
After all, if the government can fire Chief Cochran – with a history of distinguished service – who else could they target?
Though Chief Cochran’s career as a firefighter suffered a significant setback, he is still a hero. His courageous stand and victory against the City of Atlanta shows he can still protect others, even if he is no longer fighting fires.