Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran forced his own firing

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has fired Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, noting that the dismissal was initiated not because of Cochran's religious beliefs but because of the chief's poor judgment.

That's about right.

When you have more than 1,000 people working under your command, you can't go around publicly suggesting that some of them are perverts on a par with those who indulge in bestiality or child sexual abuse, as Cochran did in a self-published book. When you serve as a top manager in a government that has pledged not to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation, you can't suggest to workers that such discrimination might be justified, as Cochran did by distributing copies of that book to his subordinates. (Apparently, Cochran had been advised by the city ethics office against publishing the book, but chose to do so anyway. UPDATE: In a response after this post was written, Cochran says he was given verbal approval for the book, a claim that Reed rejects.)

And when you have been suspended without pay from your job, as Cochran was, you can't make it clear during the suspension that you intend to continue such statements and then expect that you'll be reinstated.

Reed's decision guarantees another round of criticism from the Georgia Baptist Convention and others who believe that Cochran is being punished for his religious beliefs, and it will probably turn the chief into something of a martyr among those who share his faith. That's fine. It may also mean that the decision becomes something of an issue in the upcoming General Assembly, and if so, it was still the right thing to do.

Because again, this is not about religious liberty. I don't make it a habit to quote myself, but I'll make an exception from an earlier column on the subject:

"If Cochran had instead written a pro-gay, anti-Christian diatribe and shared it with his employees, would practicing, devout conservative Christians in his department feel confident that they would not be discriminated against by their boss? My sense is that they would worry — correctly — that he had created a hostile work environment. If he were an adherent of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, and if he distributed Black Muslim pamphlets to the men and women who work for him, would the Georgia Baptist Convention defend that action under the banner of religious liberty?"

No, they would not. They would instead argue that such behavior was unprofessional and grounds for termination. And they would be right.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.