Judge: Atlanta Policy Used to Fire Christian Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran is Unconstitutional Violation of Free Speech

Image: Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP
Image: Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Both sides are claiming victory after a federal district court released an order Wednesday weighing the case of Atlanta’s former fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, who claimed he was fired over his Christian views.

In Cochran v. City of Atlanta, the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia said that the city’s restrictions on non-work speech, which were used to terminate Cochran, “do not set out objective standards for the supervisor to employ” and do not “pass constitutional muster.”

Judge Leigh Martin May backed Cochran’s claims related to the policy’s prior restraint and unbridled discretion being in violation of the First Amendment. However, she sided with the city and against Cochran over claims of religious discrimination.

“The government can’t force its employees to get its permission before engaging in free speech,” said Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Kevin Theriot, who represented the former Atlanta official.

A spokesperson for the Atlanta mayor’s office told local news that the judge ruled “in the city’s favor on all major constitutional issues, and specifically rejected Mr. Cochran’s claim that the city violated his due process and other First Amendment rights of freedom of association, free speech, and free exercise of religion.”

May heard arguments last month in Atlanta regarding the city’s 2015 firing of Cochran. The city terminated Cochran, now a staff member of a Southern Baptist church, after he wrote a men’s devotional book that advocated in a brief section the biblical view of marriage and sexuality, including that homosexual behavior is immoral.

Cochran had requested that May issue a summary judgment in his favor, while the city of Atlanta had asked the same for itself. At the November hearing, May indicated a jury trial was likely in the spring on the issues she may not decide in her December ruling, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The case is among of a mounting number involving employees or business owners whose religious convictions about such issues as same-sex marriage and homosexuality clash with the viewpoint of the government.

Southern Baptist religious freedom advocate Russell Moore said Cochran’s case “should be of concern to every American, not just to those of us who are believers.”

“The government should not be in the business of firing people from their jobs simply because they have religious convictions,” said Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in written comments for Baptist Press. “This heavy-handed bullying of Chief Cochran, if let stand, could end up harming countless numbers of people who hold beliefs that are not approved by the government at the time.”

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SOURCE: TOM STRODE 
BAPTIST PRESS via Christianity Today