Monday, April 13, 2015

Christian Fire Chief Fired for Sharing Religious Views

Kelvin Cochran served 7 years as Atlanta city fire chief until he was recently dismissed by Mayor Kasim Reed. Cochran has filed a lawsuit against the mayor, claiming wrongful termination and a violation of his constitutional first amendment rights.

In 2013 Cochran self-published a book titled, "Who Told You That You Were Naked?" The book is written from a Christian perspective and reflects on a variety of topics including the very controversial and relevant topics of homosexuality and lesbianism. In the book Cochran strongly criticizes same sex relations. He goes so far as to characterize them as "sexual perversion" and "vulgar" and also compares them to "beastality" and "pederastry."Cochran handed out copies of this book in the workplace to fellow employees. An AFRD member complained to a member of the city council that a book containing such religious and offensive material was being distributed in the workplace.

Cochran was originally suspended without pay due to violation of city policy. City officials say Cochran violated city policy by distributing a self published book to employees at the workplace. Mayor Reed claims that Cochran was dismissed not because of his religious beliefs but, "because he displayed bad judgement," and did not follow correct protocol. According to the city code of ethics Mr. Cochran was required to get permission from the board of ethics before engaging in any activity privately for profit. This part of the case is suspect in the sense that Cochran claims "he was authorized during a 5 minute phone conversation with Hickson (ethics officer)." Hickson denies the claim and claims she has no memory of the call nor does she have the authority to approve his proposal.

Cochran and his legal counsel feel as though he was not terminated due to his "bad judgement" or lack of compliance with protocol, but because of his devout Christian perspectives on same sex relations reflected in his book. Attorneys say, "the devout Christian was targeted by the city simply for espousing his biblical views on sex."

ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman said,"In America a religious or ideological test can not be used to fire a public servant. That's precisely what the city did." The first amendment protects a public servant's right to distribute religious material at work to those willing to receive them. The salient constitutional issue regarding Kelvin Cochran's termination is that it represents a hostility towards religion and discrimination based on religious perspective on same sex relations. Cochran's counsel highlights that the city is being hypocritical in terminating him for being intolerant of other lifestyles, but then being intolerant of his first amendment right to practice and express his religion without discrimination or threat of termination. Cochran told a news outlet that he believes, "his dismissal is symbolic of growing threat on religious freedoms facing Christians and other people of faith around the nation."

I feel as though termination on the grounds of violation of policy or for breaking the code of ethics guidelines is certainly justified. It is unclear due to the conflicting opinions of Mr. Cochran and Mrs. Hickson, whether or not Cochran violated that protocol. However any termination based on Kelvin Cochran's religious perspective reflected in his privately funded and self published book is unconstitutional.

Although I personally do not agree with the views expressed in Mr. Cochran's book, I acknowledge that the first amendment protects his right to express them. As often mentioned in class, no one has the right to not be offended. It is shame that a member of the AFRD felt uncomfortable with the content and presence of the books at the workplace, but Kelvin Cochran was within his rights to distribute them and express his view. Mr. Cochran was essentially terminated because the state did not support the views expressed in his book. This shows both discrimination and hostility towards the Christian religion and is unacceptable. I understand that there is a compelling state interest to have leading public figures be tolerant due to their presence in the public sphere, but there is no evidence that this personal belief has led to any on job discrimination or problem with Cochran's work. I understand that if he wrote in the book saying that he wouldn't save a homosexual from a burning building that is different, but Cochran should be able to have a religious stance, regardless of its popularity amongst the city council, and be able to express that outside his role as fire chief and as his role as a citizen of the United States, protected by the first amendment. I think there are some ties between this case and the situation with California judges that must remove themselves from involvement with Boy Scouts groups. California judges can't be leaders of Boy Scout groups due to the Boy Scouts exclusion of gay group leaders and their religious stance on homosexuality. Again I disagree with any LGBTQ discriminatory policy, but I think it is also wrong to disallow the judges from being apart of a group outside their realm of work, they are public figures and therefore all of their actions are put under a microscope, however, they should have the freedom to be citizens outside of their profession and participate freely in such a group. By the same reasoning Kelvin Cochran should be able to write a book containing Christian perspectives without the fear of termination. This case causes the issue of hostility towards religion and now other public servants, police offers, military officers will be living in fear of termination if they express their religious beliefs openly.

What do you think? Was Cochran rightfully terminated? Read the article here. 

8 comments:

brian regan said...

I agree that firing the chief in this case was unconstitutional. I do not agree with his personal views, either. Also, I believe it's extremely inappropriate and offensive to be so up front about one's views, especially as a government official. However, the chief has made it clear that these are his views only and have nothing to do with the state. Also, nothing from the chief's past shows that his biases have affected his work. Therefore, the fire chief was acting within his First Amendment rights with this book and firing him would be unconstitutional.

Alex L. said...

I agree that if the Chief's dismissal is based off a violation of the code of ethics than it is justified. He broke written rules and there are certainly grounds for dismissal. Nonetheless, if the Chief is being punished for his views there is a huge constitutional violation. Public figures like Fireman or Policeman are not robots and carry with them for better or worse personal beliefs. While they must treat all in the community equally while on the job-their abilities to preach their religion off the job in forms of handing out materials should not be restricted.

Libby W said...

I agree that the Chief's termination was unconstitutional because it has the right to express his views in this manner. He was not forcing anyone to listen to what he had to say or to buy his book, merely making it available for coworkers to purchase. There is a clear separation between this person as a state employee and as an individual. Under his freedom of speech and freedom of religion he has the right to portray his views in this method and was not harassing anyone or causing problems. His termination was unconstitutional.

Liz E said...

I believe that the firing of the chief was constitutional. He violated the code of ethics by trying to sell his book for private profits to his fellow peers. As a public figure, he should not be trying to persuade his employees one way or another on religion. He is welcome to have those beliefs, but he should not be bringing them into the public sphere at his work by selling his book which harshly condemns same sex relationships. To me, his words seem almost threatening and could be harmful to other members of the fire department who may be LGBT. I believe it was constitutional for him to be dismissed.

Nate Hunter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nate Hunter said...

This case to me is unconstitutional for the sole reason that, "The first amendment protects a public servant's right to distribute religious material at work to those willing to receive them." I think that his first amendment rights need to be protected in this case. In my opinion, as long as the chief was not attempting to heavily coerce his peers, or let his religion conflict with his day to day operations in carrying out his duties, there is no real justification in his termination. He has the right to believe and practice any religion he wants, as well as to sell a book that expresses his personal views views, as long as it isn't grossly discriminatory ands could have the effect of interfering with his work.

Courtney W. said...

I agree with Liz in that I think that since the fire chief was a public figure, he should not have been able to distribute hate speech in the workplace regardless of whether or not he was forcing people to buy his book or just giving them the option. His book had the potential to make many people uncomfortable and as a public figure, he should not have the right to do so. I feel as though it was constitutional for him to have been dismissed.

Kristen B. said...

I think that the chief deserved to be fired and this case is constitutional. Every work environment has rules employees must follow and the chief violated his. Since his book stressed strong opinions that could easily offend his coworkers the chief should have distributed his book in a different way. When he is on duty it is responsibility to help maintain a peaceful work environment but when he is off duty he has the constitutional right to distribute his book to anyone who wants to read it.