Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is in the hot seat this week after ousting fire chief Kelvin Cochran for handing out copies of his Christian self-help book that condemns homosexuality as a perversion, the New York Times reports.
In a debate that pits the city’s old guard religious conservatives against religious liberals, Reed fired Cochran last week over the distribution of his 2013 Christian book, “Who Told You That You Are Naked?” which condemns homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar, and inappropriate.”
After the firing, Cochran issued the following statement:
“I am heartbroken that I will no longer be able to serve the city and the people I love as fire chief, for no reason other than my Christian faith,” Mr. Cochran said in the statement released by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based conservative legal organization that is representing him.
“It’s ironic that the city points to tolerance and inclusion as part of its reasoning. What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant’s 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs?”
The mayor has defended his decision, saying he dismissed Cochran not for his religious beliefs, but because he failed to receive proper approval from city officials to publish the book and then spoke publicly during his suspension against the mayor’s wishes, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.
“Despite my respect for Chief Cochran’s service,” Reed said last week, “I believe his actions and decision-making undermine his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse workforce.”
The Journal speculates that Reed, 45, has larger political aspirations:
The fallout from Cochran’s firing has reached the Georgia statehouse, where a handful of lawmakers are hoping to push through a controversial “religious freedom law.” The bill seeks to prevent the state government from “burdening” employees’ religious freedoms. The bill failed last year, amid controversy around a similar piece of legislation in Arizona. Some said the Georgia bill was unfairly compared to the Arizona bill.
But Cochran’s dismissal has re-energized support for the measure, which has been presented as an example of what could happen in Georgia when freedom of speech is fully not protected under law, “This happened to me, but it’s really not about me,” Cochran concluded. “It’s a warning to every American that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are hanging by a thread, which will snap if we don’t fight to preserve these cherished protections.”