A federal court has started hearing the discrimination case filed by an Atlanta fire chief who was dismissed from his job after he released a book that defended the Biblical view of marriage and sexuality.
On Nov. 17, U.S. District Judge Leigh May heard arguments on a civil rights suit filed by former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who alleged that the city had discriminated against him because of his religious beliefs.
Cochran, who had been named Fire Chief of the Year in 2012, was terminated by the city after he published a men's devotional book that included a brief section advocating for the Biblical view of marriage and sexuality, including that homosexual behavior is immoral.
"It's ironic that the city points to tolerance and inclusion as part of its reasoning," Cochran said in a press release, according to Life Site News.
"What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant's 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs?" he added.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, who represented the former fire chief at the hearing, contended that the city had denied Cochran his First Amendment rights by unjustly dismissing him.
"A religious or ideological test can't be used to fire a public servant, but that's what the city did, as the facts of this case clearly demonstrate," Theriot said in an earlier statement, as reported by Baptist Press.
"Chief Cochran is one of the most accomplished fire chiefs in the nation, but the city's actions place every city employee in jeopardy who may hold to a belief that city officials don't like," he continued.
The city had contended that Cochran was terminated because he violated a policy in publishing his book, but the ADF stressed that comments by city officials demonstrate that the viewpoints expressed in the devotional were the reason for the dismissal.
Cochran had stated that he got the permission of the city's ethics director to publish it and to include his position as fire chief in its bio.
He had given copies of his book to friends in the fire department and also sent a copy to Mayor Kasim Reed, who reportedly told Cochran that he planned to read it.
The book eventually made its way to Atlanta Councilman Alex Wan, who pushed for Cochran's firing after reading the book.
"First and foremost, I respect each individual's right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you're a city employee, and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city's, you have to check them at the door," the councilman said.
In November 2014, Reed placed Cochran under suspension without pay, and reportedly ordered him to take "sensitivity training."
Although investigators had cleared Cochran of any wrongdoing, he was fired upon completion of his unpaid suspension in January 2015.
The judge had reportedly asked the attorneys representing the city if Cochran would have been fired if he had written a book about golf instead of marriage.
Kathryn Hinton, an attorney representing the city, maintained that "there would have been discipline imposed." "I believe the content itself was not the ultimate reason," she added.
The judge noted that a jury trial may be called in the spring on the issues that she may not decide in a ruling that she expects to hand down in December.
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