Rules Are for Schmucks: The True Story of the Fired Chief

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Last Friday, designated by the president as “National Religious Freedom Day,” the God industry paraded the latest poster child for its hysterical claim of persecution by marauding secular humanists: Kelvin Cochran, the recently fired fire chief of the City of Atlanta.

Here’s a sampling of Christian commentary on Cochran’s firing:

  • Christian Post headline: “City of Atlanta: No Orthodox Christians Need Apply.”
  • Washington Times headline: “Stifling Diversity in Atlanta.”
  • Georgia State Representative Christian Coomer: “Anti-free speech, anti-religious freedom, anti-free press mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, fires Chief of Fire Department for writing down his personal religious beliefs that homosexuality is a sin.”
  • Georgia State Representative Ed Setzler: One of the “outright examples of individuals’ religious beliefs being deemed unacceptable by government entities.”
  • Robert White, president of the Georgia Baptist Convention: “This is appalling. This has everything to do with his religious beliefs.”
  • Tony Perkins, Family Research Council: “It’s time for the city of Atlanta to end its campaign of discrimination against Christians.”
  • Franklin Graham: “The latest target of politically correct bullying against Bible believing Christians.”

So what really happened?

The City of Atlanta, like most governments, has a rule requiring government officials to obtain official permission before engaging in outside employment for profit. Chief Cochran, who also serves as a church deacon at Elizabeth Baptist Church, wrote a book and put it up for sale, without first obtaining that permission. He claims he received oral permission, but an investigation determined that he did not.

It is quite unlikely that permission would have been given had it been properly sought because Cochran’s book contains extremely offensive passages about people who work in the Atlanta fire department. Not just gay people, but everyone who has engaged in any kind of sex outside of heterosexual marriage, which Cochran informs us is “vile, vulgar, and inappropriate.” The book also contained passages that encouraged women to take a subservient role to men and suggested that Judaism encourages its followers to “reject [God’s] salvation.” According to his book, Cochran feels an “obligation to cultivate a culture that glorifies God” as fire chief.

After breaking the rule against unauthorized outside employment, Cochran proceeded to compound the problem by distributing the book to employees he supervised at the department. Some reportedly asked him for copies—what better way to suck up to the boss? Others did not ask but had the book pushed on them by the chief. One such instance occurred during a meeting with a Battalion Chief, in which Cochran outlined what he needed to do in order to be promoted to Assistant Chief. If you were handed a religious book you hadn’t asked for, authored by the person who has power to give you a promotion, what message would you take from that?

When Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed, learned about Cochran’s book, he did not fire him. Instead, he put him on a 30-day suspension so the matter could be thoroughly investigated by the city’s law department. That investigation revealed widespread “distrust and disgust” with Cochran’s Christian approach to firefighting. One of the witnesses, a lesbian who is a retired Battalion Chief, stated that she was made so uncomfortable by Cochran that she took a voluntary demotion so she wouldn’t have to be confronted by it.

The mayor ordered Cochran not to talk publicly about the matter while the investigation was in process. But Cochran prefers doing what God tells him, and so he launched a barnstorming tour of Atlanta churches to whip up political pressure against the mayor. Reed was deluged by angry telephone calls, including at home, calling him the “Antichrist” and—worse yet—a “Muslim.” Reading deeply between the lines, my uninformed guess is that this insubordination is what tipped the mayor over the edge to fire Cochran, rather than just have him promise not to distribute the book at work anymore. “I hired him to put out fires,” Mayor Reed said. “Not to create them.”

Imagine an in-your-face atheist fire chief, who writes a book slamming religion and demeaning Bible-believers as morons, and who tacitly lets subordinates know that this is how he wants his department to operate. If he were fired for that—as he should be—would there be an outcry from politicians in favor of his “religious freedom”? Government agencies work best when their leaders just focus on accomplishing their mission, leaving supernatural belief (or the lack thereof) out of the equation.

Cochran is now gearing up to file a well-publicized lawsuit, and a lucrative Christian lecture circuit beckons. “I’m not discouraged and I’m not downtrodden,” he said. “This is a God thing, and he’s going to do great things and he will vindicate me publicly.” As for Mayor Kasim Reed, I know nothing about him other than this one incident. But it takes a lot of guts to stand up to the God industry, and Reed appears to have them.