The conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom declared victory on Monday after the city of Atlanta agreed to pay a $1.2 million settlement to a former fire chief who was let go after he expressed his religious beliefs outside of work.
According to NBC affiliate 11Alive, the former Atlanta chief was fired in 2015 after he wrote a devotional book that criticized homosexuality, calling it "unclean," "a sexual perversion,” "vulgar," and "inappropriate."
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) noted that Kelvin Cochran was a highly praised fire chief who had previously served the city in that role during an earlier stint and had also been the U.S. fire administrator under President Obama. They also pointed out that the focus of his Christian book was not criticizing homosexuality but merely made a brief reference to it.
Cochran himself added that "Everything I wrote in the book is based on Scriptures, not my opinions.”
He was apparently let go for violating the city’s policies for personal conduct outside the workplace. The ADF, who defending Cochran, argued to Atlanta’s rules were far too broad and unconstitutional.
“The government can’t force its employees to get its permission before they engage in free speech. It also can’t fire them for exercising that First Amendment freedom, causing them to lose both their freedom and their livelihoods,” the ADF’s senior counsel Kevin Theriot said in a statement, adding that he hoped the settlement set a precedent for all governing agencies in the U.S.
When the mayor of Atlanta initially found out about Cochran’s book, he suspended him for 30 days without pay and ordered him to undergo “sensitivity training.” And then he fired him anyway.
According to the ADF, the city acknowledged the Cochran never showed any bigotry toward members of the LGBT community while performing his duties.
In a statement to 11Alive, Atlanta said it still believed Cochran’s book was not “reflective” of the city’s desire to be seen as “tolerant and inclusive.” They included, at length, their support for the homosexual lifestyle.
While admitting no fault, the city said they were settling with Cochran for $1.2 million because they believed that continuing to fight him would result in “tax payers paying millions of dollars in damages and litigation fees.”
Read the City of Atlanta’s full statement below:
“The comments of Kelvin Cochran were not reflective of who Atlanta is as a tolerant and inclusive city. While the start of this litigation preceded our Administration, based upon findings of the Court that could have resulted in tax payers paying millions of dollars in damages and litigation fees, a negotiated settlement was recommended by legal counsel.
"Our Administration remains committed to achieving One Atlanta—a city that is fair, just and inclusive. The City is developing the first LGBTQ employee resource group to support our City employees.
"The hiring of the City's first-ever, full-time LGBTQ affairs coordinator, the establishment of the Mayor's LGBTQ Advisory Board and the funding of the City's first Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion are also examples of our commitment to ensuring that Atlanta remains a welcoming city for all.”