Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has penned a response to U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk over the dismissal of former Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, defending the city’s stance in a controversy that resulted in a federal lawsuit filed this week.
Loudermilk and several other Republican members of Georgia’s delegation wrote to Reed on Feb. 10 with concerns that Cochran’s firing was due to his religious beliefs. In the letter, Loudermilk wrote that it “appears” the mayor violated “fundamental principles of free speech and religious freedom” when he terminated Cochran in early January.
In a response sent Wednesday — the same day that Cochran filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the mayor and the city — Reed told the congressman that Cochran’s personal beliefs weren’t a factor.
“I appreciate your concerns, and would share them if the decision to terminate Kelvin Cochran from his former position as the Chief of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department had been on his religious views or the expression of those views in his capacity as a private citizen,” Reed said.
The decorated fire chief was ousted from Reed’s administration last month for what the mayor said was a breach in protocol in Cochran’s decision to publish “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 have decried Cochran’s statements as offensive to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, noting the remarks could result in a hostile work environment. Others have said Cochran’s statements are a valid expression of his Christian views.
In what lays out Atlanta’s likely future legal defense in the federal suit, Reed told Loudermilk that Cochran was dismissed because he identified himself in the book as Atlanta’s fire chief, for stating in its pages that his job description was to “cultivate (the department’s) culture for the glory of God,” passed out the book in the workplace and sold copies on Amazon.com.
In addition, Reed repeated well-worn statements that Cochran failed to receive clearance from the city’s ethics office prior to publishing his book and then defied Reed’s request to “refrain from public comment” during the city’s investigation into his leadership.
The city’s investigation ultimately found no evidence that Cochran’s beliefs played a role in his leadership.
“Please rest assured that the city of Atlanta remains a place where all people — including those who share Mr. Cochran’s beliefs — are equally valued and respected,” Reed wrote. “Religious beliefs, however, cannot shield any employee from the consequences of poor judgment and insubordination.”
A spokeswoman for Loudermilk said Thursday that the congressman had not yet received the letter.
On Wednesday, attorneys with faith-based nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom filed the federal civil rights lawsuit on Cochran’s behalf.
The lawsuit is a separate legal proceeding from a federal discrimination complaint Cochran filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January.
A spokeswoman for Reed’s office said the city will “vigorously defend” its position in court.
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