Hundreds of people rallied at the Georgia Capitol Tuesday to support Kelvin Cochran, a longtime fire official dismissed from his Atlanta post after publishing a book, citing his Christian views, that was critical of homosexuality.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Cochran on Jan. 6 after previously suspending the six-year fire chief for the publication of "a 2013 book titled, 'Who Told You That You Were Naked?,' in which (Cochran) called homosexuality 'vulgar' and 'the opposite of purity,’ ” according to a Reuters News Agency report.
"Mr. Cochran and I are both men of faith," Reed said in a statement released by the city. "My decision has nothing to do with his religion and everything to do with his judgment and conduct as the leader of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and a member of my cabinet."
Reed said Cochran "distributed the book at work, despite the fact that its content expressed opinions which are contrary to the city’s and my personal commitment to nondiscrimination." Cochran's actions opened up Atlanta's government to the possibility of being sued by city employees, the mayor said.
However, a city investigation into Cochran's actions "found no indication that Mr. Cochran allowed his religious beliefs to compromise his disciplinary decisions," a news release stated, adding, "none of the witnesses interviewed for the Investigative Report were able to identify a specific instance of unfair treatment by Mr. Cochran based on his religious beliefs."
Speaking to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, Cochran said his firing showed "there are grave consequences for publicly expressing my faith and having the audacity to state that sex was created for procreation and should be kept within the bonds of holy matrimony."
According to the Baptist Press news service, Cochran "is a deacon, Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader at Atlanta's Elizabeth Baptist Church, a cooperating church with the Georgia Baptist Convention. A two-time Atlanta fire chief, Cochran also served as U.S. Fire Administrator under President Obama from 2009-10."
Reporting on the Cochran firing, The New York Times noted pending efforts in the Georgia Legislature to pass a state "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," although it was unclear whether such a bill would have made a difference in this situation. The paper said Reed "could not mask his frustration" with the ousted fire department head.
"I hired him to put out fires," Reed told the newspaper. "Not to create them."