Kelvin Cochran, the former Atlanta fire chief fired last year after publishing an anti-gay book, was in the spotlight on Tuesday at a congressional hearing where he testified in favor of the anti-LGBT First Amendment Defense Act. Cochran said that FADA would protect federal employees from being fired for their beliefs, which he says was what the city of Atlanta did to him.
“Please pass the First Amendment Defense Act and send the message that there is a place for me, and others like me, in the public square. In a truly diverse society, no one deserves to be ostracized, marginalized, or driven out of their profession because of their beliefs about marriage,” Cochran said in prepared remarks before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Cochran later said that the “the actions of the City of Atlanta do not reflect American values,” and that the city was labeling those who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as “outcasts.”
Openly gay Atlanta City Council Member Alex Wan’s name made its way into Cochran’s remarks as well, with the former fire chief reading a quote that Wan gave to the AJC during the book controversy where he says that if someone is a city employee and their thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city’s, “you have to check them at the door.”
“Councilmember Wan also said that my termination sent a strong message,” Cochran said Tuesday. “I could not agree more. It publicly declared that there are grave consequences for expressing the belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. If government employees hold beliefs like mine, they better remain silent, even in their personal lives, or they will be fired.”
Wan’s quote perked up the ears of the Republican members of the committee per the AJC.
“That’s why we’re having this hearing, that’s why this legislation needs to pass,” said Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, a member of the committee who also leads the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus. “That’s why people like Mr. Cochran are heroes, for his whole life experience and certainly for standing up for the fact that you don’t have to check your religious beliefs at the door.”
Democrats pointed out the flaws of FADA and chided Republican leaders of the committee for the timing of the hearing:
Democrats said FADA would sanction discrimination against gay people, single mothers and unmarried couples and that it would not have helped Cochran’s case should it have been on the books. They drew parallels to the arguments used in favor of segregation decades ago and also called out the Republican leaders of the committee for holding a hearing on the bill one month after a gunman fatally shot 49 people at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando.
“To say that this hearing is ill-timed is the understatement of the year,” said Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat.
He continued, “The paramount lesson we have learned over our nation’s history is that if we are separate, we will never be equal. That is the lesson we should be reinforcing across our country every single day — especially now — and that is the lesson I hope our committee takes to heart today.”
All 10 GOP congressman from Georgia have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, as well as Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue.
The Georgia legislature took up a version of the First Amendment Defense Act in this year’s session. The sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus) later rolled in the most anti-LGBT language of the bill into HB 257, the bill that outraged LGBT activists and led to threats of boycotts from corporations across the country. The bill passed both chambers of the legislature but was then vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal.
Cochran came under fire at the end of 2014 when passages of his self-published book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” became public. The book includes passages:
• “Uncleanness — whatever is opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, all other forms of sexual perversion.”
• “Naked men refuse to give in, so they pursue sexual fulfillment through multiple partners, with the opposite sex, the same sex and sex outside of marriage and many other vile, vulgar and inappropriate ways which defile their body-temple and dishonor God.”
Mayor Kasim Reed suspended Cochran for 30 days while the city investigated the incident, then fired him last January. Reed has stated repeatedly that Cochran was fired for not following city policy when he published his book, including for not getting permission from the mayor to write the book. Cochran also violated the city’s nondiscrimination policy that includes prohibiting bias against people for their sexual orientation and gender identity, and also for distributing his book to subordinates who did not ask for it.
“We have a strong nondiscrimination policy. His personal religious beliefs are not the issue at all. The city and my administration stand firmly in support of the right of religious freedom, freedom of speech and right to freely observe one’s faith,” Reed said at the Jan. 7 press conference at City Hall announcing Cochran’s termination. “His judgment is the basis of the problem.”
Cochran filed a federal lawsuit against the city last February and a judge ruled against the city’s motion to dismiss the suit last December.