Hundreds attend religious liberty rally in support of former fire chief Kelvin Cochran

Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran was sacked for writing a book entitled 'Who Told You That You Are Naked?'

Hundreds attended a religious liberty rally at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday in support of former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran, who was sacked for expressing his traditional views on homosexuality in a book.

Cochran was one of a number of people to speak at the 'Standing for Our Faith' rally. He said he was "overwhelmed and humbled" by the show of support.

"This experience has taught me that there are worldly consequences for publicly standing for righteousness. But I stand before you to say that the Kingdom consequences are far greater and more glorious than the worldly consequences," Cochran added.

Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, joined the campaigners, some of whom were carrying sign which said: "Standing for our faith, religious freedom and freedom of speech."

Making an allusion to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Perkins said: "Whether it's a journalist in France satirically writing about religion or a fire chief in Atlanta, Georgia writing about the sacred teachings of his faith, the silencing of either is a threat to the freedoms of all.

"The naked truth is that the actions taken against the Chief are designed to send a message that will silence Christians and in effect force them to check their faith at the door of public service."

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Assocation has also given Cochran its support. Chief of staff Ken Barun said at the event: "Franklin Graham deals all over the world with persecuted Christians. But to see it here in our own country? That is crazy."

Franklin Graham urged Christians to join the campaign and attend the raly. "Cochran didn't discriminate against anyone, he didn't persecute anyone for homosexuality or create a hostile work environment," he said in a statement last week. "Instead he was persecuted and denied his career because of his privately held religious beliefs. This is true discrimination."

Tens of thousands have signed petitions calling for Cochran to be reinstated, which were submitted after the rally. The Family Research council collected almost 33,000 signatures, the National Organization for Marriage collected just under 7,500 signatures, and the Georgia Baptist Convention's petition was signed by approximately 10,000 people.

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, who is a deacon at Atlanta's Elizabeth Baptist Church, was suspended in November and ordered to undergo 'sensitivity training' after the book was brought to the attention of city council member Alex Wan, who is gay. Cochran was fired on 6 January, the day he was due to return to work.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said that Cochran's dismissal was not about his faith, but about his judgement in writing the book and handing it out to colleagues. In particular, Reed said he had failed to acquire the necessary permission to write the book, a claim that Cochran denies. The mayor's office released the investigation into Cochran's case after the furore surrounding the decision.

According to local CBS news Reed said yesterday: "Let's stop trying to make this about religious freedom when it's about making sure that we have an environment in government where everyone, no matter who they love, can do their job without fear of being discriminated against."

The New York Times published an editorial entitled 'God, Gays and the Atlanta Fire Department' defending the mayor's decision, which drew criticism from Cochran's supporters.

Dr Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention responded to the editorial, telling Fox News: "There is a prejudice against Christians in this country right now."

Cochran's case has fuelled calls for a religious freedom bill to be enacted in the state, which has received a divided response from religious leaders in Georgia.