Fired Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran Wins Lawsuit Against Atlanta
Just before Christmas, a Federal district court ruled in the case of Cochran v City of Atlanta, in which Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran had claimed he was fired because he did nothing more than write a book — one that included a page with his Christian beliefs about homosexuality.
You’d be forgiven for not realizing that, given that the ruling on the three-year-old case seems to have garnered little to no press attention, despite its potentially significant impact on religious liberty.
Part of the reason for the seeming indifference may be the ruling itself. The court denied most of Cochran’s constitutional claims but found in his favor on the unconstitutionality of the City’s policies requiring “pre-clearance” before writing a book. (That apparent ambiguity may be why some outlets appear to have said the Court “sided with Atlanta,” which belies the fact Atlanta was defending and did not prevail in its defense — meaning the Court actually sided with Cochran.)
In its legal filings, the City claimed it fired Cochran because of the issue of pre-clearance — and not because of his beliefs. Thus, on what even the City admits was the core constitutional issue related to his firing, Cochran won.
There is some concern, however, in the way the court tossed out the other constitutional claims. For example, in granting the City’s position on some of the other points, the Court essentially said any individual person’s potential offense — even deceitful and manufactured offense — was sufficient justification for the City to act against Cochran [emphasis added]:
It is also reasonably possible that an employee would have used the book as purported evidence of discriminatory animus going forward, even if that employee did not suffer actual discrimination…
The Court could foresee individuals who might contend their fire department response time was not sufficient because of their sexual orientation or otherwise, regardless of the veracity of that claim.
That asinine logic takes the heckler’s veto — no, the ignoramus’ veto — to a whole new level. The idea that the government should proactively restrict an individual citizen’s liberty because another person might possibly, and falsely, claim discrimination is beyond the pale.
Apply that logic to the military: Should a military officer who is a “known” Christian be allowed to command a unit — if, possibly, one of his subordinates might falsely claim animus or discrimination because of their preferred sexuality?
That’s an argument that should fall on its face, yet it is the one presented as a legal conclusion by a judge. It is also not hypothetical within in the US military.
When the government “prohibits the free exercise thereof” to avoid someone being offended, it tramples on protected human rights to preserve someone’s personal feelings.
For now, it seems Cochran has prevailed on the merits of being fired. Whether the claims against the exercise of his liberties are re-addressed remains to be seen.
With reference to the Religion Clause.