Religious Freedom Win: City Pays $1.2 Million to Former Fire Chief Ousted Over Bible Study
On Monday, the City of Atlanta agreed to pay former fire chief Kelvin Cochran a $1.2 million settlement, after a court ruled his firing unconstitutional last December. Cochran was ousted in January 2015 over a Men's Bible Study guide he wrote in 2013. Even though an investigation found he had never discriminated against LGBT people, he was fired anyway, due to his biblical views on sexuality.
The December 2017 court ruling found that the city's policies banning employees from publishing books outside of work were unconstitutional, allowing city officials to discriminate against views with which they disagree. The $1.2 million settlement vindicated Cochran, sending the message that he was wrongfully fired.
"There's no amount of money that could ever restore the damage that was caused to my career after 34 years of service, but in the context of everything, I'm satisfied with the number," Cochran told PJ Media in an interview Tuesday.
"This type of a settlement certainly goes a long way to help," David Cortman, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) told PJ Media. "It's also important to send a message not only for the Chief but to others, that government's shouldn't require people of faith or anyone else to check their opinions at the door."
"The way to get tolerance and inclusivity is not to fire people who disagree with the government's message," Cortman insisted.
The firing came as a shock and a tremendous insult to Cochran, the former fire chief told PJ Media. One of the few black men on the Fire Department in Shreveport, La., Cochran faced racial discrimination personally.
"Being hired as one of the first African-American firefighters in 1981, I experienced discrimination based on the color of my skin firsthand," Cochran told PJ Media. He described "a constant slate of racial slurs, a separate designated bed," and separate dining utensils for blacks and whites.
"I had made a vow that should I ever be in a place of leadership in my career, that no one should be treated differently because of whatever demographic they brought to the table," the former chief said. He pledged to oppose racism, sexism, territorialism, favoritism, cronyism, and all forms of discrimination, "to create an ism-free culture."
"To have been alleged to have discriminated against someone, to be cleared from that, and then terminated anyway was a complete shock," he recalled.
Cochran got in trouble for sharing his book "Who Told You That You Were Naked." The 162-page volume supports biblical sexuality, reserving sexual activity for marriage between one man and one woman.
The fire chief was suspended for 30 days, and an investigation found that he had not discriminated against LGBT people. In fact, "there were LGBT persons who in their own testimony said that I had never discriminated against them and some even said that I was a just and fair fire chief," Cochran recalled.
Despite the positive results of this investigation, he was fired anyway.
"In the United States of America, according to our First Amendment, all Americans have the right to live out their faith or to speak their conscience without fear of consequences, especially consequences from the government itself," Cochran told PJ Media. "And so, for the City of Atlanta to fire me in the name of tolerance for what I believe about biblical sexuality really goes against all that we stand for as a country."
While he welcomed the settlement, the former fire chief lamented that his firing aborted his career, just as he was entering his prime.
"I have not had any recruitment efforts since I was terminated, but before that, I was getting calls every other month," Cochran told PJ Media. "I had five events booked on the calendar, but the day after the termination they were all cancelled."
While "the settlement gives me the position to really live my life and move on, whether opportunities in the fire service come my way or not," the damage to his career cannot be undone.
Cochran's career "has been unfairly cut short," he lamented. "I was at the peak of my career and still growing. The opportunities came to an abrupt halt."
Even though he had not discriminated against anyone, "just the allegation itself has cause my career opportunities great harm."
Cochran was an accomplished fire chief. Not only did he rise in the ranks to lead the Atlanta Fire Department, but he was personally selected by President Barack Obama to serve as U.S. Fire Administrator, a post he held from January 2009 to May 2010. He only left that job to return to Atlanta and resume his leadership there.
"President Obama, he did personally select me," Cochran recalled. Even so, the president did not reach out to his former fire administrator when he was unjustly fired in 2015. "I did not reach out to him nor did I hear from him after this occurred," Cochran told PJ Media.
PJ Media reached out to former president Obama's current office, but the former president and his spokespeople did not respond to multiple requests for comment. After Obama personally selected Cochran, the president shifted his positions decisively against biblical sexual morality. It seems that Cochran's biblical positions make him too toxic for the former president, despite the former fire chief's stellar record of service.
While the settlement is good news for Cochran and for free speech and religious freedom, it is tragic that the City of Atlanta discriminated against this accomplished fire chief for his religious views, after Cochran had fought so hard against discrimination throughout his life.
Watch a video about his story below.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.