Attorneys for ousted Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran say the city of Atlanta's request to have his discrimination lawsuit dismissed only proves their argument that Cochran was fired because city authorities do not agree with his Christian beliefs.
In a brief filed in federal court on Wednesday, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys said the city's motion to dismiss, which was filed in federal district court on March 25, "fails to make a persuasive argument for the court to dismiss Cochran's lawsuit."
Cochran, who served as fire chief for seven years, is suing the city, which he claims violated his constitutional rights when he was terminated in January for sharing his Christian faith in a self-published book and handing out copies to employees.
"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 Cochran," said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. "The government can't force citizens to convert to the government's beliefs to remain employed."
The city, namely Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, stands by its controversial decision to terminate Cochran, claiming that the views he expressed in his 2013 book, Who Told You That You Are Naked?, "caused at least one [fire department] member enough concern to complain to a city council member."
Attorneys for the married father of three say the devout Christian was targeted by the city simply for espousing his biblical views on sex. In the Christian devotional, Cochran calls homosexuality and lesbianism "sexual perversion" and "vulgar" and also likens them to "bestiality" and "pederasty."
The brief accuses the city of having a "double standard" which they say is evident in its blatant "disregard for employees' fundamental rights."
"[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 brief states.
"Their double-standard is even worse than their disregard for employees' fundamental rights," it 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."
In November, city officials said Cochran, who first served as fire chief in 2008, had violated city policy by self-publishing his book and then handing out copies to employees.
Subsequently, he was suspended without pay by Reed and forced to undergo sensitivity training.
The book was brought to their attention when an AFRD member complained about Cochran distributing copies in the workplace. A city investigation determined Cochran had not discriminated against LGBT employees but he was fired earlier this year anyway.
"The only one engaged in discrimination here is the city," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. "The city exonerated Cochran from any discrimination, but then it cited the need to tolerate diverse views as the reason for firing him. That demonstrates the city's hypocrisy as well as the true reason for why it fired the chief: it simply didn't like his religious beliefs, an unjustifiable reason for firing any public employee."
Reed said previously that Cochran was not fired for his religious beliefs but rather "because he displayed bad judgment." He added that Cochran did not follow the correct protocol prior to writing the self-published book even though the former fire chief told the Christian Post that this is not true.
The city's ethics code requires a commissioner to get approval from the board of ethics prior to engaging in private activity for pay.
"I had legal permission to write the book from the city's ethics officer [Nina Hickson]," Cochran previously told The Christian Post in an interview. "[It] was through a verbal conversation, there was no documentation. She said it was legal and I was authorized to write it and that she wanted a copy when I finish, after I told her what the book was going to be about."
Cochran previously told CP that he believes his dismissal is symbolic of a growing threat on religious freedoms facing Christians and other people of faith around the nation.
"There are others (fire chiefs, police chiefs, and military folks, etc.) out there who, once they see this can happen to Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran in a large city like Atlanta, [will say,] 'I've certainly got to put my Bible under my desk and keep my mouth shut about what I believe,'" he said. "I would like to see a unified effort in the body of Christ. Unless we come together and put all those boundaries and barriers aside for a unified voice ... we're not going to actually have the strength politically like members of the LGBT community do."