ATLANTA – The city of Atlanta’s attempt to defend its wrongful termination of Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran because of his religious beliefs is indefensible, according to a brief that the Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys who represent him filed in federal court Wednesday.
ADF attorneys say the city’s motion to dismiss filed in federal district court March 25 fails to make a persuasive argument for the court to dismiss Cochran’s lawsuit and instead confirms his argument that the city fired him for holding and expressing religious beliefs city officials didn’t like.
“In America, a religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant, but that’s precisely what the city did. The only thing that should be dismissed here is the city’s argument in favor of discrimination against Chief Cochran,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “The government can’t force citizens to convert to the government’s beliefs to remain employed.”
A year after the publication of Cochran’s book, City Councilman Alex Wan received information that the 162-page men’s devotional book, which Cochran wrote on his own time, included a brief mention of Cochran’s Christian views on marriage and sexual morality. Shortly thereafter, Mayor Kasim Reed suspended him for 30 days and announced that Cochran would have to complete “sensitivity training.” Reed then fired Cochran, even though a city investigation concluded that he did not discriminate against anyone.
The ADF brief explains that the city’s “motion is noteworthy…for its utter disregard of government employees’ fundamental rights. In essence, they contend that government employees who do not share their views on moral, social, and political issues are per se disruptive and may be justifiably fired. The Supreme Court has held that it is the courts’ ‘responsibility to ensure that citizens are not deprived of fundamental rights by virtue of working for the government….’”
“Their double-standard is even worse than their disregard for employees’ fundamental rights,” the brief continues. “They claim that Cochran’s religious views concerning marriage and sexual morality disrupted the workplace because some employees may object to his views, thus justifying his firing. But there are many City employees who share Cochran’s religious beliefs and who object to the Mayor’s and Councilmembers’ contrary views. Under Defendants’ newly concocted standard of ‘disruption through disagreement,’ the Mayor and agreeing Councilmembers should lose their jobs. Defendants’ disregard for employees’ constitutional rights and blatant double-standard do not accurately reflect the law.”
“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.”
“Tolerance is a two-way street,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Tolerance must apply to people of all different viewpoints, not just those who agree with the government’s preferred beliefs.”
Jonathan Crumly and Garland Hunt, two of more than 2,500 private attorneys allied with ADF, are serving as local counsel in Cochran v. City of Atlanta, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.
- Pronunciation guide: Tedesco (Tuh-DESS’-koh)
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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