If Atlanta Fire Chief’s Termination isn’t a Religious Liberty Case, Then Nothing is

The New York Times offers a lead editorial today supporting the termination of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran. The editorial argues that Cochran’s Christian beliefs about homosexuality are “homophobic,” “virulent anti-gay views.” It denies that Cochran’s firing has anything to do with religious liberty, but only with Chief Cochran’s failure to get permission to publish the book, commenting on his suspension, and exposing the city to lawsuits.

But is this really accurate? Do the editors really believe that Chief Cochran’s primary error was failing to get permission to publish the book? Mayor Kasim Reed, who fired Chief Cochran, first commented on the book in November. He made it plain that his main problem was with the message of the book, not with how it came about. Mayor Reed writes:

I was surprised and disappointed to learn of this book on Friday. I profoundly disagree with and am deeply disturbed by the sentiments expressed in the paperback regarding the LGBT community. I will not tolerate discrimination of any kind within my administration…

I want to be clear that the material in Chief Cochran’s book is not representative of my personal beliefs, and is inconsistent with the Administration’s work to make Atlanta a more welcoming city for all of her citizens – regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race and religious beliefs.

These comments make it clear that the offense was primarily the Christian views expressed in the book, not how the book came about. The mayor states plainly that the Chief’s Christian convictions are incompatible with being Chief. In fact, the Mayor says that his Christian views amount to “discrimination” against the LGBT community. The Mayor’s comments are a matter of public record. How then can the “paper of record” fail to see the religious liberty question at stake?

The Times editorial also acknowledges the fact that the Mayor’s own investigation turned up no evidence of discrimination against LGBT people on the Chief’s part. The Chief treated all his employees fairly, regardless of their sexuality. Nevertheless, the editorial says something quite stunning:

It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians. His position as a high-level public servant makes his remarks especially problematic, and requires that he be held to a different standard.

Did you get that? The editors at The New York Times think that it doesn’t matter that Chief Cochran treated all of his employees well. His views are so toxic that he has to be “held to a different standard”—apparently a standard that punishes city employees for their religious views.

The Times editorial is a case-study in missing the point. Chief Cochran’s book is not primarily about homosexuality. The offending remarks are only mentioned on a single page—a passing reference to what Christians have always believed about homosexuality. There’s no evidence the Chief shared his book to make a statement about homosexuality. Nor is there any evidence that he mistreated any of his employees. Nevertheless, the editors at The New York Times are treating him like Jim Crow.

Do we really want to treat Christians as if believing the Bible amounts to discrimination? Do we want to foster public institutions that prohibit convictional Christians from believing and expressing their views? If these issues aren’t religious liberty questions, then nothing is. The editors at the New York Times ought to be able to see that.

(Read more about the religious liberty case HERE)

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