When Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed dismissed fire chief Kelvin Cochran over a book the latter wrote, he ignited a firestorm of controversy that led to a renewed call for a religious freedom law in Georgia. And now, six members of the state’s congressional delegation have gotten involved in the fight, siding with Cochran.
In a move that escalates the fight between Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and supporters of Kelvin Cochran, lawmakers led by Rep. Barry Loudermilk this week said the firing robbed the former chief of his religious freedom to speak and write his view.
“Your action against Chief Cochran appears to violate fundamental principles of free speech and religious freedom,” they wrote to Reed. “As fellow Georgians, we are extremely troubled that a capable and long-standing public servant in our state can be targeted for retaliation and dismissed solely because of his religious views,” they added.
While the city said Cochran’s religious beliefs had nothing to do with his November suspension and eventual firing last month, he and his supporters claim it was retaliation for a book he published over a year ago that, among other things, equates homosexuality with bestiality.
The letter from the six House members raises the political element in the controversy. In it they said Cochran’s belief in the Bible is at stake.
“Chief Cochran relied upon religious text from the Bible to express his opinions in his personal writings. The only way Chief Cochran cold avoid his views would be to disown his religion,” they wrote. “What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant’s 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs?”
Cochran has filed suit against the city of Atlanta and Reed with assistance from the non-profit group Alliance Defending Freedom. The former chief’s firing has become a cause célèbre among certain circles in Georgia, with multiple petitions popping up on his behalf and supporters such as Ralph Reed and Erick Erickson. One local pundit on the other side of the issue referred to Cochran as “the face of ‘religious liberty’ bills.”
Reed, a Democrat, issued a statement of his own, stating, “It was a decision that was not made lightly because I appreciated Chief Cochran’s service to the City of Atlanta.”
In the meantime, a group of lawmakers have introduced SB129 into the Georgia legislature, a bill designed to “provide for the preservation of religious freedom” in the state. Erickson has already issued a call to action for his listeners to voice their support to their state senators.
Will Cochran’s firing and the firestorm surrounding it be the catalyst for Georgia to pass a religious freedom bill? That remains to be seen, but we’ll stay on top of it and report it here.