By Bob Allen
Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran has been fired over controversy about a Christian-themed book he wrote criticized as promoting discriminatory attitudes against gays.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced the termination in a press conference Jan. 6, Cochran’s first day back on the job following a month-long suspension for allegedly violating city policy by writing his self-published book, Who Told You That You Were Naked?, without getting the mayor’s permission.
Reed said the fact that Cochran, a deacon at Southern Baptist Convention-affiliated Elizabeth Baptist Church, spoke publicly about the controversy during the investigation added to concerns about his judgment and ability to manage 750 employees in the fire and rescue department in one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in America.
Cochran recently spoke about the controversy to the Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Audio excerpts of the address are posted on the convention website, along with a petition containing nearly 4,500 signatures accusing the mayor of violating the fire chief’s religious liberty.
Reed said Cochran’s “personal religious beliefs are not an issue at all” in his dismissal. “The city and my administration stand firmly in support of the right to religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right to freely observe one’s faith,” he said.
Reed, a Methodist, added “that I, too, am a person of very deep religious faith” and quoted a Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 14:40: “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
“In my judgment, that was not done here,” the mayor said.
“Despite my respect for Chief Cochran’s service, I believe his actions and decision-making undermine his ability to manage our fire department,” Reed said. “Every single person under the fire chief’s command deserves the certainty that he or she is a valued member of the team and that fairness and respect guide employment decisions.”
Reed said Cochran’s actions related to the book and statements during the investigation “have eroded my confidence in his ability to convey that message.”
Cochran, who in the book described homosexuality as a “perversion” comparable to bestiality and pedophilia, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he didn’t intend to be “hurtful to anyone,” but Christians, like gays, “have the right to express their beliefs regarding sexual orientation and be respected for their position without hate and without discrimination.”
“My spiritual convictions regarding sexuality do not equate to anger or hatred or malice toward LGBT members,” Cochran said in a prepared statement to Creative Loafing Atlanta, adding that his religious beliefs did not diminish his drive for “an inclusive Atlanta.”
The Human Rights Campaign recently gave Atlanta a 100-percent score on its Municipal Equality Index for the second year in a row.
Cochran originally was hired as Atlanta’s fire chief by Reed’s predecessor, Mayor Shirley Franklin, in 2008. Unable to get assurance from the three top mayoral candidates in the 2009 election that they would allow him to keep the job, he accepted an offer from President Obama to become U.S. Fire Administrator, overseeing, coordinating, and directing national efforts to prevent fires and improve fire response. Ten months later Reed offered him back his old job, and Cochran returned to Atlanta in 2010.