The city of Atlanta agreed Monday to pay former fire chief Kelvin Cochran $1.2 million, four years after he was suspended and then fired for publishing a book containing historic Christian beliefs.
Cochran’s self-published 162-page book, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?: Overcoming the Stronghold of Condemnation,” included Bible verses addresses sexuality and homosexuality. It was the latter topic that sparked a controversy and an investigation and eventually, his termination. He wrote the book on non-work time.
A federal court ruling in December 2017 ruled against a city policy that required employees to get permission from the government before writing books or giving speeches. The judge said the policy was too broad and “stifled speech.”
On Monday, the city council agreed to pay Cochran $1.2 million.
Alliance Defending Freedom represented Cochran.
“The government can’t force its employees to get its permission before they engage in free speech. It also can’t fire them for exercising that First Amendment freedom, causing them to lose both their freedom and their livelihoods,” said ADF senior counsel Kevin Theriot, who argued before the court. “We are very pleased that the city is compensating Chief Cochran as it should, and we hope this will serve as a deterrent to any government that would trample upon the constitutionally protected freedoms of its public servants.”
U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May ruled in December that the policy “does not pass constitutional muster.”
“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,” May wrote. “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 any unsupported assertion of harm.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Timothy Eberly/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.