BreakPoint: Judge Rules for Kelvin Cochran

Government Can’t Put out the Fire of Faith

Another big religious freedom case in federal court. And in this case, there’s a ray of hope.

For more than three decades, Kelvin Cochran built a record of service and expertise that made him one of the most respected Fire Chiefs in the country. He was the first African-American Fire Chief in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was among the responders to Hurricane Katrina. President Obama appointed him as the U.S. Fire Administrator, whose job is to improve both fire prevention and response across the country.

And until a few years ago, he was the Chief of the Atlanta Fire Department, a job he would probably still hold if city officials had any respect for Cochran’s rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Cochran got into trouble over a book he wrote on his own time for a small group that he led in his church. The book entitled “Who Told You That You Were Naked?,” was directed at Christian men seeking to fulfill their biblical roles as “husbands, fathers, community and business leaders.”

Six of the book’s 162 pages—yes, that’s 3.7 percent—addressed a biblical perspective on sexuality. As David French summed up, Cochran took “the completely conventional, orthodox Christian position that sex outside of male–female marriage is contrary to God’s will,” which “is the position of the Catholic Church and every orthodox Protestant denomination in the United States.”

Unfortunately, “orthodoxy” is defined very differently at Atlanta’s City Hall. When the contents of Cochran’s book came to the attention of Mayor Kasim Reed, Reed ultimately fired Cochran, but not before saying “when you’re a city employee, and [your] thoughts, beliefs, and opinions are different from the city’s, you have to check them at the door.”

That makes it sound like Cochran was fired for his beliefs; but the city denied that. Instead it claimed that he was let go because he didn’t obtain permission before publishing the book.

The problem is that, constitutionally-speaking, the city cannot require employees to get permission before expressing their religious views.

Late last month, a federal court agreed. It concluded that the Atlanta pre-clearance policy “does not pass constitutional muster” because it does not “set out objective standards for the supervisor to employ.”

As a result, the opinion continues, it “would prevent an employee from writing and selling a book on golf or badminton on his own time and, without prior approval, would subject him to firing. It’s unclear to the Court how such an outside employment would ever affect the City’s ability to function, and the City provides no evidence to justify it . . . The potential for stifled speech far outweighs an unsupported assertion of harm.”

Unfortunately for Cochran, that glass is only half-full. The court rejected Cochran’s claim that his rights to free speech and freedom of religion were violated by his firing.

Still, as Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kevin Theriot emphasizes, the court ruled that Cochran’s firing was unconstitutional. According to Theriot, who represented Cochran, the ruling “sets a precedent that says that government employers have to be very careful about how they restrict the speech of their employees when they’re talking about non-work related stuff.”

This is a real concern. Rules like Atlanta’s have had a chilling effect on the free speech of people on platforms such as social media. People have legitimately feared the consequences of speaking up for traditional Christian beliefs even on their own time. This ruling is an important step in the direction of eliminating that chill.

Where does that leave Cochran himself? Despite media reports to the contrary, he’s in a position to recover his lost wages and benefits. There’s even a remote possibility he could get his job back.

In a just and sane world Kelvin Cochran would not have had to endure what he has endured. But I’m grateful for his courage and I pray that he’ll receive some compensation for the wrong done to him.

 

Judge Rules for Kelvin Cochran: Government Can’t Put out the Fire of Faith

Learn more about the outcome of Kelvin Cochran’s case before the federal court. Check out the links in the Resources section below.

 

 

Resources

Court: Atlanta was in the wrong when it fired Cochran
  • Chris Woodward | Alliance Defending Freedom | December 20, 2017

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  • Phoenix1977

    “According to Theriot, who represented Cochran, the ruling “sets a precedent that says that government employers have to be very careful about how they restrict the speech of their employees when they’re talking about non-work related stuff.””
    Except the ADF is forgetting the Supreme Court ruling in Garcetti vs Ceballos (2006) in which the Supreme Court ruled government employees are not protected by the First Amendment at work. And that is the issue here since Cochran handed out his book to his subordinates, while several of them felt they were in no position to refuse the book out of fear for their carreer.

    “Where does that leave Cochran himself? Despite media reports to the contrary, he’s in a position to recover his lost wages and benefits. There’s even a remote possibility he could get his job back.”
    It leaves him nowhere. If the City of Atlanta appeals this desicion (and they most likely will) this might end up in front of the Supreme Court, which has already ruled in a similar case (see Garcetti vs. Ceballos).
    And even if the courts decide Cochran should get his job back, how do people see that will happen? How will people who have been at each other’s throats for the better part of 3 years ever work together? The short and true answer is they don’t. So Cochran will never work for the City of Atlanta again. And due all the publicity of this case no one else will ever hire him again.

    • aurbonas

      Point taken. How do workers and management work together after a strike? With much tension between them. As for hiring Cochrane, anyone who admires him for his stand will.

      • Phoenix1977

        Quite often the leaders of a strike can kiss their careers goodbye. They are passed over for promotions, get the worst shifts possible, have their vacation requests denied, experience delays or “mistakes” in their paychecks, etc. So, most of the time workers and management stop working together after a strike and the atmosphere that remains is “us vs. them”.

        • Steve

          With the LGBT community it seems like it is all about revenge against those who disagree with them. Sad.

          • Phoenix1977

            No, more making sure those in a position to harm us will never get that opportunity.

    • Tyler

      I wasn’t aware he was handing them out at work. If that’s true, that was a bad move on his part. I wonder if that was part of the City of Atlanta’s case against him. I agree, I don’t see that being a very workable relationship going forward (at least for Cochran) unless there was some major turnover in the head office. But I honestly don’t think he would have trouble finding other work, he was the Federal Fire Administrator, he could probably get a job just about anywhere he wants.

      • Phoenix1977

        A job as what? Most companies won’t get involved with a person who is on the LGBT radar and most government agencies can do without having a controversial figure joining their ranks. So his options are limited to religious organisations who supported him throughout this battle. But I have no idea what use a religious organisation like the Alliance Defending Freedom or the Colson Center would have for a federal fire administrator?

        • Tyler

          Not sure he would want or would be qualified for any jobs at the Alliance Defending Freedom or the Colson Center, but I also just disagree, my hope is that our country is still one where having an opposing view to the current stream of culture doesn’t preclude you from a job.

          • Phoenix1977

            You really need to get out in the real life more. According to recent polls less than 20% of Americans under the age of 25 believe in the First Amendment. 74% stated religious freedom was not worth protecting or fighting for and almost 2/3 of those asked are ashamed it took the US this long to make same-sex marriage the law of the land and required law suits to get it done.
            Does that sound like a country where conservative Christian ideas and values are welcome to you?

          • allblues

            That sounds like a country that is circling the drain.

          • Phoenix1977

            I’d say a country electing someone like Donald Trump as their president is quite deep down the drain already.

          • Steve

            It doesn’t matter if they believe in the First Amendment or not. It is the law of this country. They likely don’t understand just how their lives would be affected without the protections of the First Amendment. Try having a message board like this in China or North Korea. You are sounding more and more like a totalitarian. Do you really want to revisit the 20th century? I have asked you many times but have never gotten a response–have you read the Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn? You should and then you will see what happens when freedoms are taken away.

          • Phoenix1977

            “It is the law of this country.”
            Laws can change. And the Supreme Court already limited the First Amendment in earlier rulings.

            “You should and then you will see what happens when freedoms are taken away.”
            I’m European. We don’t have a First Amendment or limitless freedoms. All our freedoms and rights are limited by the addition “… within everyone’s responsibility according to the law”.

          • Tyler

            I’d like to see the poll you’re referring to (honestly, not in a “call your bluff” sort of way, I really would like to see it), but to answer your question, no Christians are black balled in a lot of ways, so you’re correct, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say that a publicly Christian person can’t obtain employment because of something in their private life. Otherwise I would be out of a job, I work in the public sector, and I haven’t felt the need to hide anything I believe. I also don’t force the issue during work, but my point stands.

        • Steve

          So if you are on the LGBT radar your career is over? I thought LGBT people were about fairness and tolerance. I guess that’s only a one-way street.

          • Phoenix1977

            I told you so many times now: we have no interest in being tolerant against the intolerant. If you go against us, we’ll go against you. Ask Brendan Eich, former CEO at Mozilla, how that works.

          • Wow! Simply wow! For folks to be rejoicing over a man losing his livelihood to provide for his family is diabolical. I remember commenting in dismay at amazon’s Who Told You That You Were Naked three years ago on exemplary Kelvin’s unfathomable predicament.

          • Phoenix1977

            “For folks to be rejoicing over a man losing his livelihood to provide for his family is diabolical.”
            Really? So please tell me how many times you openly supported gay people in states like Texas and North Carolina when they lost their jobs for no other reason than being gay? And did you know until 2001 gay men were banned from having public jobs, like teachers, police officers and even doctors? Or that there are 18 states in the US, including Texas and North Carolina, where you can get fired for no other reason than being gay and even lose your pension in the process?
            And do you know what all those things have in common? It were Christians who came up with those laws and ways to enforce them.

          • Tom Sathre

            Phoenix, I don’t know the whole answer to your list of grievances but here’s the answer for l little piece: recognize that we all work for someone. In my home state (of Colorado, if you’re keeping score) you can get fired for any or no reason.

        • TBP100

          Another way to put this is that most companies won’t get involved with someone who unjustly compares a large swath of the population with child molesters in a book, which he then pressed on subordinates in the workplace.

    • Robert Cremer

      The article says the book was handed out to a small group at church not at the place of employment. Where did you get that? If anyone did not want to read the book why would they need to refuse receiving it? There could be no fear of losing a career if they trashed the book later. It sounds like you are making up a scenario that does not exist.

      • Phoenix1977

        Yes, THIS article states Cochrane handed out the book in church and kept it from his place of work. However, should you ever decide to visit a news outlet you will find quite a different story. One that is actually supported by witnesses and statements from others than Cochran and the Alliance Defending Freedom. Like the statement from the 2 subordinates who felt threatened by Cochran and his book.

    • Steve

      He never forced anyone to read his book. So the “I’m scared about my career” claim is ridiculous.

      • Phoenix1977

        And yet at least 2 of his subordinates felt pressured in accepting the book.

        • Deplorable_D_Covfefe

          Then the subordinates are the ones with the problem; not Cochran.

  • Tom

    If Cochran was directing his book to Christian men in his small group seeking to fulfill their biblical roles as husbands, fathers, etc…, why did he feel the need to include homosexuals in the content? From my understanding, he referred to them as vile and compared them to people that have sex with animals. Did Jesus condemn the woman at the well or call the woman found guilty of adultery vile and make them feel unworthy of His love? What if one or more of the men in his small group struggle with same sex attraction…how comfortable would they be to confess that with others in the church after reading that? I understand having a stance on topics such as homosexuality is important, but when one shares truth without love or compassion or the gospel message of hope, it gives the devil a foothold and begins to reek of hypocrisy. In my opinion, if Cochran truly saw himself through God’s eyes, he wouldn’t be calling another sinner “vile”and making them feel outside of The Lord’s love and possible future forgiveness if the sinner should repent. The world doesn’t need more doctrine spewed out in hateful tones, or having others come to the rescue or show support for glaring hypocrisies…we as Christians need to start showing love and compassion to a hurting world as we speak truth

    • Susan360

      What is the source of your information Tom? As you say, it is not wording I would expect, but I would also want to know if what you say is true. I have seen people on either side of this debate launch unjustified, untruthful attacks.

      • Tom

        Hi Susan, yes that is so true that truth may be in short supply when reporting news these days. The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, CNN, USA Today, as well as the more conservative, Baptist News Global to name a few all quoted these phrases from his book.

    • Phoenix1977

      “If Cochran was directing his book to Christian men in his small group seeking to fulfill their biblical roles as husbands, fathers, etc…,”
      And if he had done that within his own church that would have been fine. However, he didn’t. He brought the book to work, where he was the boss, and started handing it out to others, who were his subordinates. And at least 2 of them feared for their careers should they reject Cochran’s “present”.

    • sweetsuzee

      Jesus did not condemn the woman at the well nor did he call the adulteress vile. However, Jesus did refer to men who sleep with men as an abomination. Isn’t vile just a synonym? Seriously speaking, if everyone agreed about everything, this would be a very dull and boring world !!

  • Jim

    If he was addressing married Christian men in his small group seeking to fulfill their biblical roles as fathers, husbands, etc…, why did he feel the need to bring up homosexuals and call them vile and compare them to people that have sex with animals? What if one or more of the men in his small group struggled with same sex attraction, how comfortable would they be to confess it to other members of the church after reading that?

  • Phoenix1977

    “The problem with being an oppressor is that they eventually face growing resentment followed by major backlash”
    The backlash can never be greater than what we have already endured (and what we are still enduring in quite a few states in the US and the rest of the world). So I’d say: hit me with your best shot!

  • Tyler

    I see your point there. I did read that study you sent me, thank you for that! However, it did say that 62% of Generation Z in the US support free speech. Still too low in my opinion, but anyway, that was on page 18. Page 52 even reports that 49% of Generation Z support the right to non-violent free speech even if it is offensive (to a religious group). And page 91 says that “Support for non-violent free speech in all circumstances is higher among young people in the US than other Western countries, supported by a majority of the young population when it involves religion (62%) or minority groups (57%).”

    • Phoenix1977

      Free speech is not the only thing mentioned in the First Amendment, is it? It also discusses freedom of religion. And last years Gallup Poll (one of the most conservative polls regularly published) showed a majority of questioned Americans wanted freedom of religion to take a backseat of that right conflicted with any other human right.

      Also, we need to establish what “non-violent free speech” is, than. I think we can all agree “All gays must die!” is not non-violent. But most people would suggest a tekst like “We are against rights for LGBTs” is quite non-violent. Or is it? Because what rights does that group oppose? The right to get married? The right to adopt? The right to share a back account? The right to own a house? The right to live? It doesn’t say. And if their view on LGBT-rights include the right to live all of a sudden their “We are against rights for LGBTs” becomes a lot more violent, wouldn’t you agree?
      Another issue: compare the outcomes for Generation Z with Generation X and you will see a dramatic drop is support of free speech or tolerance for religious freedom. That illustrates quite nicely the likely future for religious freedom, freedom of speech and the will to protect minorites at any cost. Like I said before, the LGBT community has time on it’s side, Christians do not. Although rulings like the case of Kelvin Cochran are a setback they are not more than that. Because there are still so many Kelvin Cochrans, Jack Phillipses, Baronelle Stutzmans and Aaron and Melissa Kleins out there we will get a second, a third, a hundredth chance and in the end we will win.

      • Tyler

        You’re correct about the first amendment, but the study you shared with me didn’t mention freedom of religion, so it’s a moot point. Secondly, you didn’t address my observation that your statistics were wrong. You can’t just point me to another study and then compare those statistics to a different population of people, that doesn’t address the matter at hand. Also, I think that’s why discussions are important, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say “I’m against LGBT rights” full stop, that statement (as ineloquent as it is) typically refers to a specific right or group of rights (such as marriage or adoption) and is worked out in the context of a discussion, so to set up the strawman of the Christian who doesn’t think LGBT people should have rights is just inaccurate, it flat out doesn’t happen, except maybe on extreme fringe groups like Westboro Baptist Church, who would say very violent things like “All gays must die.” So therefore, I actually disagree with your point, that such statements aren’t violent, if that statement isn’t a violent statement, what possibly could be considered a violent statement?

        • Phoenix1977

          “so to set up the strawman of the Christian who doesn’t think LGBT people should have rights is just inaccurate, it flat out doesn’t happen”
          Have you ever read my previous posts?
          About my Christian upstairs neighbor, who tried to have me and my ex evicted from our apartment because he didn’t want to live in the same building as a “couple of filthy, unholy f***”?
          Or about my classmates mother, who drove him to suicide because he would be better of dead while still innocent than alive as a f***ing q****?
          Or about how people thought it would be okay to key Leviticus 20:13 in the paint of my car?
          Or how a group of Catholic ladies thought it was fine to throw eggs at my ex and me for walking by hand in hand on a sunny Sunday afternoon?
          Ever heard of Matthew Shepard, who was denied his right to live simply because he was gay, and was beaten to a pulp in Fort Collins, Colorado?
          Do I need to continue or is my point clear? It does happen. In fact, the Human Rights Campaign has calculated it happens once every 2 minutes somewhere in the Western World. During the time you read this reply one LGBT somewhere in Europe or North America has been denied his or her basic rights for no other reason than being LGBT. And the last thing we LGBTs need is someone, anyone, who believes it’s his or her right to encourage the violence towards LGBTs in whatever way possible.

  • Bruce A. Frank

    Wait, I thought that government agencies, city, county, state and Federal were forbidden to restrict free speech of employ’s unless they appeared to be taking a public stand that could be construed as endorsed by their employing government agency? Government is specifically forbidden to censor private speech! That is specifically the 1st amendment!

    It just hit me, it that respect, Roseanne’s post was private speech in contradiction to her network’s public stand, but not spoken in a venue where it appeared to be ABC’s policy. Ms Bee’s spoke a scripted line that was OK by the officials of the company that oversaw that their employees toe’d the company line, spoken on a show running on that network.

    • druidbros

      You are always free to express an opinion but you are never free from the consequences of that free speech. He was fired because he was expressing a vile hatred of other peoples lifestyles. He was in fact encouraging discrimination. This is why the courts ruled his firing was justified. Because goverment cannot discriminate.

      • blkequus

        so he was fired because he ‘might’ do something. Yet in all his years of public service not once did he actually encourage discrimination. In fact, he reduced discrimination. And I don’t think expressing a ‘vile hatred of other people’s lifestyles’ is enough evidence to show he wasn’t doing his job properly. Afterall there are always some people’s lifestyles that we consider vile. That is far different from directing hatred at the people who live those lifestyles.

  • Timothy D Padgett

    Any supposed silence points in the opposite direction. There are a great many things He did not specifically address – rape, slavery, incest – but we may confidently comment on such things ourselves because of His connection to and continuation of the Old Testament and the teaching of the Apostles. Jesus repeatedly reaffirmed the validity of the Old Testament, including when He spoke about loving God and neighbors. His disciples, who learned their ethics from the Old Testament and from His words, consistently critiqued homosexuality as inconsistent with Christian ethics and as a lifestyle from which Christians could be and had been delivered.

  • Anonymous

    How about that he was distributing the book to employees at his work as a government employee? Does that not violate separation of church and state?

    • unsheepled

      THERE IS NOTHING IN THE CONSTITUTION ABOUT SEPARATING CHURCH AND STATE .. I recommend you read the document. The separation bit is from a letter by Jefferson to another person. Why do people cherish their ignorance so much ! UGH

      • Anonymous

        Oh, so Government CAN endorse a religion according to you?

        • Deplorable_D_Covfefe

          That is not what unsheepled said. Quit twisting his/her words.

          By the way, Thomas Jefferson never implied that Govt can endorse any religion.

          • Anonymous

            We know that Thomas Jefferson never implied that Govt can endorse any religion. But, the Constitution DOES separate church and state. Read the 1st Amendment.

            “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” That IS separation of church and state.

      • Willbk1323

        Who said anything about the constitution?
        Perhaps you’re not familiar with the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
        “I recommend you read the document”

    • Samuel K. Hood

      Distributing no. Forcing employees to take them yes. But simply offering them or giving them away is not illegal.

      • Anonymous

        People might feel that they are not able to refuse it.

        • Deplorable_D_Covfefe

          NEWSFLASH!!

          NO ONE forces another person to take something that is freely given.

          • Anonymous

            Read what we said. “People might feel that they are not able to refuse it.” HE WAS THEIR BOSS!!! Again, HE WAS THEIR BOSS!!! That alone might cause them to feel that they had better take it or they might get a poor performance review. Why? Because HE WAS THEIR BOSS!!!