Kelvin Cochran, the Atlanta fire chief who was famously fired from his position after publishing a book critical of homosexuality, will now see his highly-publicized case head to trial.
According to a report from Town Hall, the Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Cochran in the lawsuit against the City of Atlanta. Cochran's attorneys are arguing government employees do not need permission to publish anything about their religious beliefs outside of working hours, while the City of Atlanta maintains Cochran was not fired due to his Christian beliefs, but because he violated an outside employment clause.
Bob Trent, media relations director for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said he expects a trial date to be set for this summer: "The trial should occur in late summer but no date has been set," he noted in an email to The Christian Post on Tuesday.
As reported by The Gospel Herald, Cochran, who is a devout Christian, was fired after writing a book on Biblical morality for a men's Bible study in which he referred to homosexuality as "unclean," "inappropriate" and "vulgar."
Shortly after the book was published, Cochran, who is a father and grandfather, was accused of distributing copies of it at work, prompting an investigation into possible discrimination within the fire department.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed first suspended Cochran for 30 days and announced that he would have to complete "sensitivity training." The Post notes that despite an investigation, that included interviews with employees, finding that Cochran did not discriminate against anyone, he was fired by Reed, who cited a need for tolerance.
"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," Reed wrote at the time, adding that Cochran was fired for "insubordination" and "poor judgement."
In turn, Cochran, who was named Fire Chief of The Year by Fire Chief Magazine in 2012, sued the city to regain his job.
While city officials had sought the dismissal of the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Leigh May said in a ruling issued in December that Cochran's claims of religious discrimination are plausible and refused to dismiss the case. The court subsequently ruled that the lawsuit would go forward and hear Cochran's primary claims of retaliation, discrimination based on his viewpoint, and the violation of his constitutionally protected freedoms of religion, association, and due process.
"We look forward to proceeding with this case because of the injustice against Chief Cochran, one of the most accomplished fire chiefs in the nation, but also because the city's actions place every city employee in jeopardy who may hold to a belief that city officials don't like," Kevin Theriot, Cochran's attorney, said in a statement.
Cochran's case has attracted the attention of a number of faith leaders, including the Rev. Franklin Graham and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
Last year, Graham, who is the president of Samaritan's Purse, said that Cochran was clearly "targeted" and fired "because of his faith in Jesus Christ."
"The latest target of politically correct bullying against Bible believing Christians is Atlanta's former fire chief Kelvin Cochran," Graham wrote. "I personally know Chief Cochran. He served as chairman of my Crusade in Shreveport in 2005. He is a fearless man of great faith...[His] book on biblical morality simply restates God's position put forth in His Word, the Bible."
In a December interview with Fox News, the former fire chief emphasized that he does not bear any ill-will to those involved in his termination.
"The essence of the Christian faith is a love without condition," he said, "I have demonstrated that love in the fire service for 34 years. There's not any person of any people group that has interacted with me for any measure of time that can say I have hate or disregard or discrimination in my heart for any people group."
He added, "I'm not discouraged and I'm not downtrodden.This is a God thing and He's going to do great things and He will vindicate me publicly."