Cochran controversy takes new turn as U.S. Reps weigh in

The controversy over former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran’s dismissal, which began with a self-authored religious book that contained remarks about homosexuality, has reached the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk and several other Republican members of the Georgia delegation recently sent a letter to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, saying it "appears" the mayor violated "fundamental principles of free speech and religious freedom" when he terminated Cochran in early January.

The decorated fire chief was ousted from Reed’s administration for what the mayor said was a breach in protocol in Cochran’s decision to publish the book, “Who Told You That You Are Naked?” At issue are passages within the 162-page book that describe homosexuality as a “sexual perversion” akin to bestiality. Many decry Cochran’s comments as offensive and anti-gay, while others see it as a valid expression of religious beliefs.

In the Feb. 10 letter, Loudermilk writes that by terminating him, “Atlanta itself engaged in an act of discrimination.” The letter, co-signed by Republicans Rep. Buddy Carter, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Rep. Tom Price, Rep. Austin Scott and Rep. Jody Hice, calls for Cochran’s reinstatement.

Reed spokeswoman Anne Torres said Reed has received Loudermilk’s letter, but not yet responded. The mayor has repeatedly said Cochran’s faith played no role in the decision to terminate him.

“The religious nature of his book is not the reason he is no longer employed by the city of Atlanta,” Torres said. “The totality of his conduct …reflected poor judgment and failure to follow clearly defined work protocols.”

Reed maintains that he fired Cochran because the chief didn’t have required clearance from City Hall to publish the book, identified himself as the city’s fire chief in its pages, and distributed it to a small number of employees. What’s more, Reed said Cochran disobeyed his request to not speak publicly during a month-long suspension and has shown no “contrition” for the ensuing controversy.

The city found no evidence during its investigation of Cochran that his beliefs played a role in his leadership.

Cochran has since become the poster child for a religious liberty bill now under consideration at the Gold Dome. The chief, who has received support from organizations including the Georgia Baptist Convention, Family Research Council and the Alliance Defending Freedom, has also filed a federal discrimination complaint against the city of Atlanta for what he says is religious discrimination.

On Wednesday, the former fire chief and the Alliance Defending Freedom are expected to hold a press conference at the Capitol to discuss “new developments” in Cochran’s case.