The City of Atlanta fired their fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, because of a book he wrote that restated biblical teachings about human sexuality. Despite never having faced accusations of creating a hostile work environment or discrimination in hiring or firing practices, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said at that time that “his actions and decision-making undermine his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse workforce.”
On Wednesday, a judge ruled that Atlanta violated chief Cochran’s Constitutional Rights.
While Chief Cochran claimed that he was fired because of his religious beliefs, the City of Atlanta argued he had been dismissed because he did not comply with the City’s pre-clearance rules for outside employment by writing a book on his own time without getting the city’s approval.
Concerning the city’s policy, the court said,
“This policy would prevent an employee from writing and selling a book on golf or badminton on his own time and, without prior approval, would subject him to firing. It is unclear to the Court how such an outside employment would ever affect the City’s ability to function, and the City provides no evidence to justify it…. The potential for stifled speech far outweighs an unsupported assertion of harm.”
Chief Cochran had previously been appointed by President Obama to serve as the Administrator of the United States Fire Administration.
Around the country, bakers, florists, counselors, print shops, churches, and firemen have faced challenges in the workplace because of their convictions. This decision is an encouraging sign that, in some quarters, there remains an appreciation that the First Amendment exists, in part, to prohibit the government from punishing people because of their beliefs.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Human Rights Commission of Colorado, in which the state of Colorado said a bakery is legally required to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding.
A decision, in that case, is expected in June.
Hopefully, Chief Cochran’s case will signal a trend toward more tolerance of belief in the workplace.
Diversity is a good thing, right?