Ousted Atlanta fire chief’s supporters pack Capitol, call for reinstatement

Ousted fire chief Kelvin Cochran, flanked by a group of local and national pastors and evangelical leaders, spoke at a rally at the Georgia State Capitol today lamenting his treatment by Mayor Kasim Reed and, among other things, saying that sex should only be had for procreation. The rally doubled as a show of support for so-called “religious freedom” bills being proposed in the state legislature.

Approximately one to two hundred of Cochran’s supporters crowded into the Capitol rotunda for the event, with others packed into the ledges on the floors above. They nodded, held up signs and shouted “Amen” throughout the event.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins compared Cochran's firing to the Charlie Hebdo killings. (photo by Patrick Saunders)
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins compared Cochran’s firing to the Charlie Hebdo killings. (photo by Patrick Saunders)

The speakers, including noted anti-gay religious leaders Tony Perkins and Alveda King (niece of Martin Luther King, Jr.), called for Mayor Kasim Reed to reinstate Cochran. And Perkins compared Cochran’s ouster to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris last week that left 12 dead. Conservative Georgia commentator Erick Erickson made a similar comparison in a Jan. 8 editorial on his blog.

“Make no mistake about it,” Perkins said. “Last week’s violent assault was designed to intimidate and silence others who would dare exercise that fundamental human right of the freedom of speech. but whether 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.”

King cited several Bible passages and bemoaned “this seemingly never-ending debate over sexuality,” while Dr. J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, held a Bible up in the air and said, “Every word of this Bible is absolutely true. Now you can criticize the Bible and you can judge the Bible but in reality, the Bible judges us. There are some who declare that this is an issue against homosexuals. It is not. It is a matter of religious liberty. And it’s time for us to take strong stands about religious liberty.”

Cochran was the final speaker.

“Indeed a strong statement has been made,” Cochran said of Mayor Reed’s actions. “All people groups are welcomed and embraced in the city of Atlanta, except the groups that believe the scripture regarding God’s purpose for sex.”

Following the hour-long rally, the religious leaders led Cochran’s supporters on a march to City Hall to deliver petitions calling for Cochran’s reinstatement.

Reed took to Facebook and sent an email blast today reiterating why he terminated Cochran and pointing readers to a New York Times editorial in support of his decision. The Facebook post and email blast were sent precisely at 1:30 p.m., the scheduled start of the Cochran rally. Religious leaders at the rally denounced the Times editorial.

The rally followed a Tuesday morning press conference held by religious leaders who denounced the “religious freedom” bills being proposed in the state legislature and disagreed with the notion that Cochran’s religious liberties were infringed.

“That was a decision made by the mayor,” said Rabbi Peter Berg at the press conference. “That issue is going to be raised up as a false example. I frankly don’t think one has any to do with the other.”

Cochran prays with evangelical leaders at the conclusion of the rally. (photo by Patrick Saunders)
Cochran prays with evangelical leaders at the conclusion of the rally. (photo by Patrick Saunders)

Rep. Sam Teasley, a Republican representing Marietta, pre-filed HB 29 on Dec. 30. State Sen. Josh McKoon has yet to file his bill but has vowed to do so since both his and Teasley’s bills failed in last year’s session. Neither Teasley or McKoon appeared to be in attendance at the rally.

Mayor Reed fired Cochran on Jan. 6, announcing the move at a City Hall press conference surrounded by his entire cabinet as well as local LGBT leaders. The move followed a 30-day suspension without pay due to Cochran going against city policy by writing a book that included comparisons between homosexuality and bestiality.

At the press conference, Reed reiterated the city’s nondiscrimination policy that prohibits prejudice based upon sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as race, color, religion, and sex. Reed said Cochran was given the option of resigning but refused to do so resulting in his termination.

“His personal religious beliefs are not the issue at all despite the number of comments and emails I have been receiving on a daily basis,” Reed said at a packed press conference. “His judgment and ability to manage the department was the subject of this inquiry.” Reed named Deputy Chief Joel C. Baker as the interim fire chief.

Cochran told the GA Voice in an interview later that day that he is considering a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta and declined to answer questions about any legal groups he may have talked to. However, Cochran released a statement on Jan. 11 through Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-gay legal group based out of Arizona that many believe is behind the “religious freedom” bills popping up across the country.

Video of Cochran and a photo gallery of the event below.

psaunders@thegavoice.com | @patricksaunders