Atlanta mayor faces Christian backlash after firing city’s fire chief over anti-gay book
Former Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran

The mayor of Atlanta is facing a backlash from conservative Christians over his decision to dismiss the city’s fire chief for distributing a self-published book that describes homosexuality as a “perversion”.

Kasim Reed fired Kelvin Cochran last week, after placing him on suspension without pay. The mayor said at the time he would not tolerate discrimination within his administration. The decision rattled some conservative Christians, who believe the dismissal of Cochran is an affront to freedom of religion and expression.

“I am heartbroken that I will no longer be able to serve the city and the people I love as fire chief, for no reason other than my Christian faith,” Cochran said in a statement released by the Alliance Defending Freedom , an Arizona-based group that advocates for the unfettered expression of religious faith.

“It’s ironic that the city points to tolerance and inclusion as part of its reasoning. What could be more intolerant and exclusionary than ending a public servant’s 30 years of distinguished service for his religious beliefs? The most baffling thing is that I had permission to write my book and I was exonerated of discriminating against anyone.”

In the book, Who Told You That You Are Naked?, which was published in 2013, Cochran describes himself as a devout Christian and condemns homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate”.

The mayor has defended his decision, saying he dismissed Cochran not for his religious beliefs, but because he failed to receive proper approval from city officials to publish the book, and then spoke publicly during his suspension against the mayor’s wishes, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

“Despite my respect for Chief Cochran’s service,” Reed said last week, “I believe his actions and decision-making undermine his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse workforce.”

It is widely believed that Reed, 45, has larger political aspirations.

The fallout from Cochran’s firing has reached the Georgia statehouse, where a handful of lawmakers are hoping to push through a controversial “religious freedom law”. The bill seeks to prevent the state government from “burdening” employees’ religious freedoms. The bill failed last year, amid controversy around a similar piece of legislation in Arizona. Some said the Georgia bill was unfairly compared to the Arizona bill.

Businesses in Georgia opposed such a bill, and have indicated that they will oppose similar legislation again this year. But the dismissal of Cochran has re-energized support for such a law, given its presentation as an example of what can happen to Georgians when their freedom of speech is fully not protected under law.

“This happened to me, but it’s really not about me,” Cochran concluded. “It’s a warning to every American that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are hanging by a thread, which will snap if we don’t fight to preserve these cherished protections.” © Guardian News and Media 2015