ATLANTA — Attorneys for the City of Atlanta and Mayor Kasim Reed have asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a fire chief who was terminated this year over his Bible study-inspired book that included one page that listed homosexuality with other sexual perversions.
As previously reported, Chief Kelvin Cochran was suspended for one month beginning in late November and was placed under investigation as to whether he violated city policy or engaged in discrimination by publishing the book “Who Told You That You Were Naked?”, which was compiled as a result of a number of lesson plans that he had prepared over time for men’s Bible study groups.
The book, available on Amazon, is centered on God’s question to Adam following his disobedience in the Garden of Eden, and parallels the matter with those who are now “clothed in Christ.”
While “Who Told You That You Were Naked” was published in 2013, it was reportedly not until last November that Atlanta employees complained to Mayor Reed about its content.
“Uncleanness [is] whatever is opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, all other forms of sexual perversion,” Cochran wrote. “Naked men refuse to give in, so they pursue sexual fulfillment through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, the same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways which defile their body-temple and dishonor God.”
But it wasn’t Cochran’s writings against sexual perversion that got him into hot water; it was the fact that he included homosexuality among those behaviors that are cited as being “vile,” “vulgar” and “inappropriate.” The text was included on just one page out of the entire 160-plus page book, which does not center on homosexuality.
Following the receipt of a complaint over the quote, Mayor Kasim Reed placed Cochran on a one-month suspension while an investigation went forward. Shortly after he returned to work, Reed decided to terminate the fire chief over the publication.
He alleged at a press conference shortly after the beginning of the new year that his decision had nothing to do with freedom or speech or religion, stating that Cochran was fired because he had not obtained approval from officials to publish the book. Reed also stated that he thought the chief could present legal liabilities for the city.
But Cochran said the he indeed did seek out the ethics officer prior to publishing the book, and not only was he granted permission to proceed, but he was also allowed to include in his biography that he served as the fire chief of Atlanta. He said that he gave a copy of the publication to Reed in January 2014—nearly a year before the controversy erupted—and was told by the mayor that he would read it.
Shortly after his firing, Cochran filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, alleging a violation of Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act, and a month later, attorneys for Cochran filed a federal lawsuit against Reed and the City of Atlanta, asserting violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Now, city attorneys have asked the court to dismiss Cochran’s lawsuit. In their motion to dismiss, filed this week in federal district court, attorneys claim that the city had a right to fire Cochran because his book “caused at least one [fire department] member enough concern to complain to a city councilmember.” It also cited Cochran’s gifting of the book to department members, the majority of whom were subordinates, as additional grounds for termination.
“Plaintiff must show that his interest as a citizen in publishing a book of guidance for Christian men in the workplace and disseminating said book in the workplace where he was the fire chief of the AFRD outweighed the City’s interest as a governmental employer,” the motion states.
“Because the City of Atlanta is a governmental employer with heightened powers to restrict speech as necessary to ensure efficient delivery of mandated services, and in the context of Plaintiff being the top official in the AFRD which is a paramilitary organization that requires strict discipline and trust to maintain particular efficiency, Plaintiff cannot show that his interest in publishing and disseminating a controversial book in the workplace outweighs Defendants’ interests as a governmental employer,” it continues.
But Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing Cochran in court, states that the city’s motion “confirms the lawsuit’s argument that the city fired Cochran for holding and expressing religious beliefs city officials didn’t like.” It also contends that most of the subordinates who were gifted with a copy of Cochran’s book had requested it, and that none had objected to receiving the publication.
“In America, a religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant, but that’s precisely what the city did,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “That endangers everyone who works for the city who may hold to a belief that the city doesn’t like. Furthermore, the First Amendment fully protects the freedom of any public employee to distribute religious materials at work to those willing to receive them, and no city rule—written or unwritten—can override that freedom.”