ADF to court: Atlanta must be held accountable for unjustly firing fire chief
WHO: ADF Senior Counsels Kevin Theriot and David Cortman
WHAT: Available for media interviews following hearing in Cochran v. City of Atlanta
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 14, immediately following hearing, which begins at 10 a.m. EDT
WHERE: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, 2167 Richard B. Russell Federal Building, 75 Spring St., Courtroom 2107, Atlanta
ATLANTA – Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsels Kevin Theriot and David Cortman will be available for media interviews immediately following Theriot’s oral argument Wednesday before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on behalf of former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, whom the city unjustly fired because of his religious beliefs. The city is seeking dismissal of the ADF lawsuit Cochran v. City of Atlanta.
In April, ADF filed a brief explaining that the city failed to make a persuasive argument for the court to dismiss the suit. Instead, ADF attorneys argue, the city’s arguments confirm Cochran’s claim that the city fired him for holding and expressing religious beliefs city officials didn’t like.
“A religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant, but that’s what the city did,” said Theriot. “That places every city employee in jeopardy who may hold to a belief that city officials don’t like. Tolerance must apply to people of all different viewpoints, not just those who agree with the beliefs the government favors.”
After activists who don’t agree with Cochran’s Christian views on sex and marriage complained about a brief mention of the topics in a 162-page book Cochran had written on his personal time, Mayor Kasim Reed suspended Cochran for 30 days and announced that he would have to complete “sensitivity training.” Reed then fired him, even though a city investigation concluded that he did not discriminate against anyone. Public statements Reed and City Councilman Alex Wan made late last year confirm the truth about why the city fired Cochran.
“I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs and is inconsistent with the administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all citizens…,” Reed said in November of last year to explain why he suspended Cochran.
That same month, Wan told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I respect each individual’s right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you’re a city employee and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.”
Reed recounted in his 2014 State of the City Address that he “begged” Cochran to return to Atlanta in 2010 from his job as U.S. fire administrator in the Obama administration. Cochran agreed, and the city council confirmed him to serve a second time as the city’s fire chief, a job Cochran originally held from 2008 to 2009.
Cochran is one of the most accomplished fire chiefs of all time. In 2012, Fire Chief Magazine named Cochran “Fire Chief of the Year.” In a city news release issued about the award, Reed thanked Cochran for his “pioneering efforts to improve performance and service within the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department,” applauded “Chief Cochran and all of Atlanta’s brave firefighters for the commitment to excellence shown throughout the department,” and recognized that Cochran’s “national recognition” as Fire Chief of the Year was “much-deserved.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Comments of Kelvin Cochran following hearing
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana, I never would have thought that a young boy’s dream to become a firefighter would have led to the incredible opportunities that God blessed me with.
Along the way, I’ve had the privilege to work with many courageous men and women who daily put their lives on the line to protect the residents of Atlanta. I love each and every person—black, white, gay, straight, Christian, or non-religious—that I have worked with. Indeed, that love is compelled by the very faith that has been such a motivating factor in my life.
It was my faith that called me to pour myself into my work as Atlanta’s fire chief—to create the best fire department in the nation. And by God’s grace, we succeeded in doing just that.
But my faith, which has guided me all throughout my life, would just a few weeks later be the basis for my termination from the position that I loved.
In my free time, I wrote a book to help Christian men in their walk with God. But because Mayor Reed and the City of Atlanta didn’t like my book and the religious beliefs I expressed in it, I was fired.
Our nation was founded on the principle that everyone should be free to not just believe what they want, but to live their lives according to those beliefs. The city’s actions are a threat to that freedom.
Today’s hearing is just one step in a larger, national struggle. All across our country, people of faith are finding themselves increasingly at risk of losing their jobs, their businesses, and more because certain segments of society find them and their beliefs intolerable.
I’m here today not just for myself, but for every religious person in America who does not want to live in fear of facing termination for expressing their faith. I’m here today to vindicate the God-given freedoms every American is guaranteed under the United States Constitution and federal law.