by Alexandra McPhee
October 17, 2018
Though former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran lost the position he worked his whole life to achieve, a $1.2 million settlement on October 15 in his favor is closure to his multi-year saga defending his faith.
In January 2015, the decorated former chief and Obama-appointee was fired for authoring a religious book for men, which focused on biblical principles of marriage and sexuality. Mayor Kasim Reed had placed him on suspension and required sensitivity training before his ultimate termination.
The city gave several superficially objective reasons for giving this public servant the pink slip. But a later investigation concluded that there was no evidence that Cochran’s beliefs compromised his leadership. Cochran pursued litigation to defend his right to express his faith in his private capacity.
What it comes down to is that Cochran was fired for his articulation of long-held beliefs on marriage and sexuality. As one city council member tellingly said in response to the book, “when you’re a city and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.” As it turns out, the city council member would have to check his own opinions at the door in the face of the $1.2 million city-council-approved payout issued with a vote of 11-3.
Last year, a federal district court ruled that the city “can’t force its employees to get its permission” to engage in free speech.
The court acknowledged Cochran’s reputation as “an excellent Fire Chief” and his mission to “assemble a group of firefighters . . who represented diverse backgrounds, characteristics, and beliefs,” including at least two employees who identified as LGBT under his leadership.
Not all of Cochran’s constitutional arguments were accepted by the court. But Cochran’s large settlement is a signal that the city knows that it has the losing side of the argument.
The government is here for the people, not the other way around. No American should be punished simply for holding beliefs that are different from the government. As Cochran’s case demonstrates, making such a mistake can come at a price.