The Atlanta fire chief suspended after he wrote a book appearing to equate homosexuality with child abuse and bestiality has been sacked.
Kelvin Cochran self-published a 162-page book last year entitled Who Told You That You Are Naked?, aimed at helping men overcome feelings of guilt over past sins. It defines 'uncleanness' as the "opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, and all other forms of sexual perversion". It discusses homosexuality in half a page.
Cochran is a deacon, Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader at Atlanta's Elizabeth Baptist Church. He was suspended a month ago and ordered to undergo 'sensitivity training' when the book was brought to the attention of city council member Alex Wan, who is gay.
The sacking comes after investigators said that Cochran had failed to obtain the city's permission to publish the book and had refused to remain silent about the matter during the investigation, contrary to instructions not to speak to the media. Other finding have not been released. Cochran denied both charges, and said that allegations of discrimination against homosexuals were "completely unfounded". "The investigation shows that there is no evidence. Under no circumstances have I been discriminatory or hateful towards any member of the department in the LGBT community or a member of the LGBT community at large."
However, Mayor Kasim Reed said at a press conference: "Despite my respect for Chief Cochran's service, I believe his actions and decision-making undermine his ability to manage our fire department.
"Every single employee under the fire chief's command deserves the certainty that he or she is a valued member of the team and that fairness and respect guide employment decisions. His actions around the book and his statements during this investigation have eroded my confidence in his ability to convey that message."
He added that a "decision to retain Chief Cochran" could have caused the city to be held liable in potential anti-discrimination lawsuits.
Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC), told Baptist Press that Cochran's firing was "a religious liberty issue".
"It comes down to his belief," Griffin said. "Would we have this discussion if he had written a book on hunting or fishing? I don't think so."
Reed denied that Cochran's religious liberty had been violated, saying that his "personal religious beliefs are not the issue at all". "The city and my administration stand firmly in support of the right to religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right to freely observe one's faith," he said.
Alex Wan issued a statement saying that Cochran's actions "made it a difficult work environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees within the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department. This sends a strong message to employees about how much we value diversity and how we adhere to a non-discriminatory environment."
Baptist Press said that Cochran addressed the GBC's Executive Committee on December 9 following his suspension.
"I'm just standing still to see the salvation of our God because He will show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are fully His," he told committee members. "And my heart is fully His."
He said he would not try to get his job back as fire chief but he is considering other legal options.