Church takes aim at Atlanta fire chief’s dismissal

The pastor of the church where recently fired Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran is a member sent a pointed message Sunday to the man who ousted the chief, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

“Just because you sign my paycheck,” said Dr. Craig L. Oliver Sr., senior pastor at Elizabeth Baptist Church, “doesn’t mean you can control what I think or say.”

The pastor’s comments underscored a controversy that has bedeviled Reed for weeks. Cochran, a deacon at the church, self-published “Who Told You You Are Naked?”, a 2013 book that some construe as critical of gays. The mayor suspended Cochran for a month while the city investigated those claims. Reed fired him last week.

Cochran was not axed for expressing his views, Reed said, but for not obeying rules, including not getting clearance to write the book and failing to remain quiet while the city investigated complaints about it. Cochran, the mayor added, may have opened the city to potential discrimination litigation.

“His religious (beliefs) are not the basis of the problem,” Reed said when he announced the firing. “His judgment is the basis of the problem.”

Oliver, wrapping up a sermon on forgiveness, questioned the mayor’s judgment as well. “All Christians in Georgia and the nation should be greatly concerned” over Cochran’s removal, Oliver said.

Also on Sunday, church ushers distributed hundreds of letters addressed to Reed criticizing the mayor for his “utter disregard for (Cochran’s) First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.” Oliver urged church members to sign them and promised to deliver the letters to Reed on Tuesday1/13 — a week to the day that the mayor axed the chief.

He also called on church members to hold a brief demonstration outside Atlanta City Hall that afternoon.

On Sunday, Cochran released a statement through Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization that advocates for the freedom to express faith.

“This happened to me, but it’s really not about me,” Cochran’s statement read. “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.”

The mayor’s office issed a statement Reed made earlier.

“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.”

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