ATLANTA — A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit filed by a Georgia fire chief who was fired earlier this year over a self-published book that included a paragraph citing homosexuality among other sexual behaviors that are a perversion of God’s design may move forward.
As previously reported, Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired last year after being suspended for one month and 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?”
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.” It was compiled as a result of a number of lesson plans that he had prepared over time for men’s Bible study groups.
While “Who Told You That You Were Naked” was published in 2013, it was reportedly not until November 2014 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.
Attorneys for the city asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit earlier this year, but on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May ruled that the case could move forward. However, she dismissed some of Cochran’s claims while retaining others.
Cochran’s claims regarding retaliation, discrimination based on viewpoint, violations of the freedom of religion and association, and due process were all upheld, while his equal protection, Establishment Clause, vagueness and liberty interest claims were all dismissed.
“This lawsuit is not about religious beliefs, nor is it about the First Amendment. Rather, it is an employment matter involving an executive in charge of 1,129 firefighters and tasked to lead by example,” city spokeswoman Anne Torres told reporters. “Instead of leadership, the former executive failed to follow his employer’s rules for outside employment.”
However, Cochran’s attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) state that they look forward to the battle ahead.
“Tolerance must apply to people of different viewpoints, not just those who agree with the beliefs the government prefers,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman in a statement. “Americans don’t surrender their constitutionally protected freedoms when they become public servants.”