Free speech under fire in Atlanta

By Richard Nelson

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January 12, 2015

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A firestorm over religious freedom and human sexuality has long been brewing in the nation. Legalization of gay marriage and the ascendency of sexual orientation protection into law has fueled the debate and kindled controversies from coast to coast.  Casualities on the side of speech, conscience and religion are mounting. Louie Giglio, Brenden Eich, Craig James, Donnie McClurkin, Jack Phillips, and Barronelle Stutzman–have all been penalized or marginalized for holding to a conservative view of human sexuality. Now add Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran to the list. Cochran was fired over a book he published in 2013 titled "Who Told You That You Were Naked?" 

In it, Cochran called homosexuality "unclean," "a sexual perversion," "vulgar" and "inappropriate." While he wrote about other sins, his beliefs hit a nerve with gay political activists. And it cost him his job. Mayor Kasim Reed said Cochran's view "is inconsistent with the administration's work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all citizens — regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race, and religious beliefs." As much smoke clouding this statement,  a clear contradiction emerges.

Reed went on to say "not one time during the course of preparing this book did Chief Cochran ever think that it was appropriate to have a conversation with me despite the fact that I have made my opinion — and this administration's opinion — clear on this topic," Reed said. It is unclear whether Atlanta city employees who write opinions, blogs or books in other areas need clearance from the mayor before publishing their views.


Mayor Reed and the Atlanta City Council maintain they really are for diversity. How much does Alex Wan value diversity? Wan, the only openly gay member of Atlanta's City Council, supported Reed's decision. "I support the administration's decision to terminate Kelvin Cochran's employment with the City of Atlanta," Wan said in a released statement. "This sends a strong message to employees about how much we value diversity and how we adhere to a non-discriminatory environment." 

Wan is correct with part of the statement. The firing does send a strong message. He couldn't be more wrong that they value diversity. Nor can anyone say with a straight face that they adhere to a non-discriminatory environment. Diversity left the room when the mayor originally placed Cochran on administrative leave in November for having diverse views on human sexuality. As for non-discrimination, only in an Orwellian context can someone claim "we had to discriminate in order to stop discrimination." Kelvin Cochran meet Big Brother.

He goes on to acknowledge that his detractors should be allowed to express their position. "LGBT citizens deserve the right to express their belief regarding sexual orientation and deserve to be respected for their position without hate and discrimination, but Christians also have the right to express their beliefs as well," said Cochran.

Cochran said in a statement, “this happened to me, but it’s really not about me. 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.”

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center