What the Atlanta fire chief did wrong

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Seal of Atlanta

Seal of Atlanta

Seal of Atlanta

Last week, Atlanta mayor Kassim Reed ignited a firestorm in Georgia — and beyond — by firing fire chief Kelvin Cochran over a book he wrote on Christian manhood that describes homosexuality as a “perversion” like bestiality and pedophilia, and characterizes homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate.” Cochrane, who is a pillar of his church, published the book, Who Told You that You Were Naked?, in 2013.

Yesterday, the Georgia Baptist Convention held a rally in support of Cochran intended to call attention “to the reality of Christian discrimination in the workplace. Now is the time for all Bible-believing Christians to show their support for Chief Cochran’s courage and for our First Amendment rights as American citizens!”

“It’s persecution when a godly fire chief loses his job over expressing his Christian faith,” said GBC executive director Robert White.

The precise reason for Cochran’s firing seems to be that he did not get permission to publish the book as city rules require — a claim he denies. It is likely that both sides will get their chance to make their case in court. In the meantime, however, it’s important to understand that there’s a difference between the First Amendment rights of ordinary citizens and those of public officials.

According to the investigative report  by the city’s law department released yesterday, Cochran distributed the book to nine of his subordinates, including three who didn’t ask for a copy. In one case, he gave the book to a battalion chief during a counseling session for the man’s promotion to assistant chief. Although there was no evidence that he allowed his views on homosexuality to affect his departmental decision-making, one retired battalion chief, a lesbian, told investigators that she had taken a voluntary demotion because she suspected him of holding them.

“There was a consistent sentiment among the witnesses that firefighters throughout the organization are appalled by the sentiments expressed in the book,” said the report. “There also is general agreement the contents of the book have eroded trust and have compromised the ability of the chief to provide leadership in the future.”

Cochran’s defenders point out that his book devotes only minimal attention to homosexuality. That’s neither here nor there. Suppose a public official published and distributed to subordinates a book that, in a single sentence, made religiously based claims about Jews and Muslims not going to heaven or about how God opposes mixed-race marriage. Publication of such beliefs — perfectly legitimate under the First Amendment — would be widely accepted as a disqualification  from holding public office.

The same goes for views on homosexuality, no matter how sincerely held or widely shared within one’s own religious community. Legal norms have changed, and like it or not, that means that public officials have to maintain strict limits on any views they share contrary to those norms.

As the investigative report points out, Chief Cochran himself directed that a complaint be brought against a squad of firefighters who posted a picture of themselves on Facebook supporting Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s negative stance on homosexuality. Firefighters Union president Steven Borders contends that Cochran should be held to the same standard as the squad members, who were given 30-day suspensions. Actually, the chief needs to be held to a higher standard.

  • samuel Johnston

    HI Mark,
    Excellent topic, good article. When I was admitted to the Bar, I had to take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States (presumably as interpreted by the Courts), because we practicing lawyers are all “Officers of the Court”, which means we have to play by the rules “(unlike T.V. shows, that often show us not doing so).
    Any public official performs his duties as a representative of the State. He is not entitled to bring his personal opinions that conflict with public policy to his job.
    HIs rights in his private life do not include appearing in public protesting public policy,
    or identifying himself with illegal activities or causes. Allowing Public Employee Unions has certainly clouded the subject. Personally, I consider it a major policy blunder to have allowed the legalization of Government employees. I look forward to the day that they will be abolished once more.
    FWIW :”From the dawn of the twentieth century to the early 1960s, public-sector unions generally had no legal right to strike, bargain, or arbitrate, and government workers could be fired simply for joining a union.” (Public Workers, by Joseph E. Slate 2004)

  • Larry

    To those whiners complaining the Fire Chief got fired for expressing his Christian faith, tough luck. As a representative of the city and a government official he cannot allow be seen as using his position to endorse religious belief. There are 2 elements to 1st Amendment religious freedoms.

    The Bible thumpers usually only get part of one of them right, the free exercise of religion (which they usually think only applies to Christians). The other part of it is the establishment clause. The separation of church and state. The government as a body or through its officials cannot be seen favoring a given religious belief in the course of their duties.

    If the department had rules concerning officials publishing works outside of their duties, those were most definitely violated. As a civil servant with a great deal of authority, free speech is tempered by the role played as a representative of the government.

  • Frank

    What law states that public officials give up their first amendment rights when they take a public job?

    Wake up Christians. Unless you stand up boldly, declare the truths of God no matter what, you will be more and more discriminated against and marginalized. Wake up!

  • Larry

    “What law states that public officials give up their first amendment rights when they take a public job?”

    The First Amendment. Its called the Establishment Clause.
    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”

  • Doc Anthony

    Mr. Kassim Reed better be praying that HE still has a job on his next election day!

    Now given Cochran’s example of “30-day suspensions”, I can see Mayor Reed dishing out the same to Cochran. Understandable.

    But anything beyond that point, (especially since there’s “no evidence that he allowed his views on homosexuality to affect his departmental decision-making”), is essentially nothing more than pandering to vengeful PC police on Reed’s part.

    Which means it’s time for Reed to get **fired** too! At the ballot box!!

  • Frank

    Poor Larry quotes things he has little understanding of.

    That’s doesn’t answer my question. A public officials personally beliefs that are voiced are not the state establishing a religion. How embarrassing for you.

    If that were the case every public official who says gay “marriage” is ok should be fired. After all its their faith beliefs.

  • Nanabedokw’Môlsem

    Assumptions about the nature of same-sex attraction underlie all opinions on this topic.

    The Georgia Baptist Convention and ex-Chief Cochran clearly believe that homosexual attraction is 100% voluntary, a matter of choice, and not the least bit biologically determined.

    Many of the opposing view regard same sex attraction as biologically determined, i.e. hard-wired in the DNA, a matter about which the person has no choice.

    Science has yet to deliver us a report on the matter, so far as I know. Same sex attraction could be in DNA, or could be in childhood revulsion against the source of experienced sexual abuse, or could be in some warped consciousness, When people voice opinions respecting same sex activity, they ought to acknowledge that they do not in fact know why the activity occurred, i.e. whether or not the activity is in the moral sense involuntary/normal.

  • Garson Abuita

    The legal case here only involves freedom of speech. There is long precedent that government employees’ free speech rights are limited. Most recently the US Supreme Court squarely addressed the matter in Garcetti v. Ceballos in 2006. It involved the LA County DA’s Office – you may remember the name from the OJ trial. The truth is that most of these cases involve whistleblowing and have nothing to do with religion. If Atlanta tried to fire the individual merely for being a member of a church that, for example, called homosexuality a perversion, the legal analysis would be much different.

  • Larry

    “A public officials personally beliefs that are voiced are not the state establishing a religion.”

    Poor ignorant Frank. Of course they are.

    As for 1st Amendment rights, the fire chief was well within his rights to publish the book. Nobody could stop him. He also was well within his rights to accept the PR flack that would exist by handing it around among his department. The 1st Amendment does not keep you from being fired for saying things which undermine your job or the perception of the job.

    “There also is general agreement the contents of the book have eroded trust and have compromised the ability of the chief to provide leadership in the future.”

  • Larry

    There is plenty of evidence that Cochran’s book was seen as an embarrassment and undermines his reputation within the fire department. First amendment rights protected the publishing of the book, but it doesn’t make one immune to the reaction to its content. Especially when one is in a highly visible government position. Producing bad PR alone is enough of a cause to justify firing.

  • cken

    I don’t agree with Cochran’s statement nonetheless I believe he has the right to say it regardless of his position. His first amendment right would trump state public policy. Furthermore to the best of my knowledge Georgia doesn’t recognize gay marriage at this time. The book he published is in the private sector and as long as his views don’t cause him to discriminate in his public position he has a constitutional right to express those views. In essence what this comes down to is he was fired for not being politically correct. If a Jewish person wears his yarmulke or a Muslim brings his prayer rug to work as a public employee and uses it during work hours even on lunch break would it correct to fire him based on separation of church and state.

  • samuel Johnston

    I look forward to the day when a newly elected President refuses to take the oath
    on a Bible. Until then it is really silly to say that the hugely dominant religion of this country is “marginalized’.

  • Larry

    He was free to give his opinion in a book. It was published and there was no legal repercussions to it. Free speech however does not mean one is immune to criticism as to what they write.

    As a political appointee however, his career is always subject to the winds of public relations. He was fired for embarrassing his position and giving the appearance of being discriminatory (even if there is no evidence of it in action).

    Your example of the yarmulke and prayer mat are terrible analogies. Neither of those actions are a direct attack on others nor can be reasonably seen as behavior potentially hostile to the image of the position and government one works for.

  • Chaplain Martin

    First of all there is no such thing as the Southern or Georgia Baptist Convention as a single entity unless they are meeting in an annual business meeting. There is the Executive Committee of both, each of which speaks as a committee, and each of which has some power, but not the authority to speak on behalf of the entire member-churches of the convention. Only what is voted on in each the two conventions (state and national) speaks for the member churches represented at the annual business meeting, and still the individual churches can disagree with the vote, at that.
    Dr. Robert White speaks for himself in this matter. Even if, in an annual convention, such a stand were taken, it has no real power over the individual churches.

    The SBC is not a Church like the United Methodist or Presbyterian church. Many SBC member churches are holding on to their membership for tradition sake and do not hold to the fundamentalist take over and the 2002 Baptist Faith and Message.

    There are some questions on my part about the firing of fire Chief Kelvin Cochran. Did Atlanta Mayor Kassim Reed follow proper procedures? Had he warned or given an oral, or written reprimand to Chief Cochran to cease what he was doing regarding the book? I see that he did suspend him last fall and order him to undergo “sensitivity” training, which is not enough and a bit too late. Did homosexuals in the department report their fear regarding the Chief? Had the retired lesbian battalion chief stated anything in her exit interview that would indicate her feelings on such a matter? It does seem that a member of the fire department did pass on a copy of the 162-page book (half a page to homosexuality) to a gay city council member.

    I’m concerned that the atmosphere and/or the culture of the fire department is such that violations such as including giving a religious book of any kind during a counseling session with an employee was not immediately reported.

    There is little doubt that Chief Cochran made really poor decision in the way he distributed the book. If he put the name of the Atlanta Fire Department on the cover or in the book then he clearly is in violation. Remember, Chief Cochran was an employee not elected to office. Am I to believe that an employee has to get permission to print a book that he has written?

    Mayor Reed is clearly a politician doing the correct political thing in today’s political climate. Could it have been done this way for dramatic effect and for the approval of the Atlanta gay community?

    There are many flaws on both sides of this issue. The individual Baptists and others have picked a flawed argument in fighting for Chief Cochran’s first-amendment rights. They should have run their argument by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (headed by constitutional attorneys). Of course their ego probably wouldn’t allow this since the SBC pulled out of the BJC, a nearly hundred year old organization they started.

    Cochran crossed the line by passing out the book the way he did. He could have simply made the book available through his church. Every one has a right to express his/her own beliefs, even in conversation in the work place, but very carefully in a supervisory relationship. He seemed to be “witnessing” or apostatizing as a supervisor to employees in a work environment which would seemed be a violation of the employees First Amendment rights.

    Mark, I find a couple of your statements a bit flawed : “Legal norms have changed, and like it or not, that means that public officials have to maintain strict limits on any views they share contrary to those norms.” “Publication of such beliefs — perfectly legitimate under the First Amendment — would be widely accepted as a disqualification from holding public office.
    Two terms you use: “legal norms” and disqualification from holding public office.” Run these by some constitutional scholars, I may be wrong, but I think the use of “legal norms” would not hold up in a First Amendment case nor the no religious test to hold office section of the constitution. However, while Chief Cochran is a type of public figure because of his job, he was in fact an employee.

    I am an Christian and was a Southern Baptist for many years, but as the SBC drifted away from my beliefs. it didn’t matter so much until the leaders of Home Mission Board came for the Chaplains. Many of us left. As a chaplain, for the sake of being useful to all persons to which I ministered, I was careful so I could be of service to all wither they believed in any God or not, and making no difference regarding a persons sexual preferences. I always worked in a secular environment as a chaplain. Chief was not a chaplain but he sure could have used some Clinical Pastoral Education training.

    My conclusion: The GBC leaders, the individual pastors/ministers of Atlanta area Baptist Churches, have taken on a flawed cause which has negatively impacted any witness or ministry they hope to do. Former Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, clearly made a number of mistakes. He is not a monster, his beliefs are his, he displayed dedication to what he believed, acted partly out of ignorance and good judgement, but suspension was at least warranted.

  • Chaplain Martin

    Read the rest of it.

  • Chaplain Martin

    Regarding may last sentence:
    “He is not a monster, his beliefs are his, he displayed dedication to what he believed, acted partly out of ignorance and good judgement, but suspension was at least warranted.”

    It should have read: “He is not a monster, his beliefs are his, he displayed dedication to what he believed, acted partly out of ignorance and lack of good judgement, but suspension was at least warranted..” I would add, firing I’m not so sure.

  • bqrq

    Most pro-gay people cannot explain how and why gay sex is morally righteous and normal, yet they continue to foist these fallacies on our children and young people. Most parents object to the constant and unrelenting pressure brought to bear on their children by pro-gay people. It almost seems like most pro-gay people do not really care whether gay sex is right or wrong, nor who gets hurt.

    The legitimate concerns of parents are usually ignored. Many of us believe that the activities of some pro-gay people borders on child-molesting. Be assured that we shall protect our children and defend our opinion.

  • Pac

    If you research the details of this case, Chief Cochran was indeed given an initial 30 day suspension. During which he was obliged not to publicly discuss the case while the investigation was pending. Chief Cochran did not abide by this order and got himself fired the day he returned from his suspension.

  • AND THE SIXTH AMENDMENT ABOUT “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”???

  • Daniel Berry NYC

    Doctor “Johnston,” I like how you think. The congressman in Minnesota who is a Muslim takes his oath of office on the Qu’ran. The people of that state seem not to be too vocal in their opposition to his doing so. When is this country going to wake up and grow up? I’m sick to death of hysterical so-called christians who think that because they’re not allowed to impose their beliefs on everyone, that somehow takes their Constitutional rights away from them. Conservatives just don’t get it.

  • Daniel Berry NYC

    your attitudes are a typical set-up for a gay kid’s committing suicide. With so many people like you around, how can you possibly think anyone–anyone–would deliberately “choose” to be gay?

    As my father used to say, if being gay were a choice, it wouldn’t take you long to make a different one.

  • Doc Anthony

    Some do make a different choice. You don’t have to be gay if you don’t want to be gay. Ask the wife of New York City’s mayor.

  • Shabby acts can usually count on defenses from the arts and sciences faculty, which is why the arts and sciences faculty should have not influence in society (apart from those with some useful skills, like economists). Mark Silk just gave us another lesson in that.

  • Doc Anthony

    Imagine that. “NO religious test.”

  • Just to be clear, “no religious test” in the Constitution has to do with requirements that a public officials not be required to believe in God, the Trinity, not be a Catholic, etc., as mandated at the time for service in Parliament in England and, indeed, by a number of the states of the new union in America. This does not prevent political parties from being established to prevent, say, Catholics, from being elected. It has, to be sure, contributed to the belief that such a party would be “unAmerican” — hence the “American Party” of the 1850s came to be known as the “Know Nothing Party” because the members didn’t like to own up to their anti-Catholic (anti-immigrant) views.

    In any event, “no religious test” doesn’t mean that public officials — government employees — can conduct themselves religiously in the same manner as private citizens. A public school teacher cannot, for example, proselytize in class. If she does, she can be fired — and most Americans would agree that she should be.

  • bqrq

    If a young man believes he is gay, then he does not necessarily have to practice sodomy. Sodomy is strictly a choice. Homosexuals encourage young men to practice sodomy in order to satisfy their own deviant physical gratification.

    If sodomy is “normal” for young men, is it also “normal” for young ladies?

  • Dave

    How was he “using his position to endorse a religious belief”? The First Amendment was written so as not to establish any one particular and specific Christian denomination in America such as had existed in many states leading up to the Founding – e.g., such as the Anglican Church was in VA and what the British Crown had imposed. It was created by a coalition of Protestant Christians, Unitarians, deists and others in support of “liberty for all” to have the freedom to exercise their religion without fear of the state telling them otherwise. However, to suggest that one’s religious convictions should be banned from being articulated in an organization that ipso facto imposes secularism as its stated belief might be understandable, but the fire chief did nothing of the sort even if such an imposed secularism violates the First Amendment as originally written and understood. People like you want to bar public officials from even holding private personal convictions that they convey in a written document forcing people like the fire chief to never apply for such a job. Even so, the fire chief did receive a verbal endorsement that he could write the book.

  • Dave

    Again, you have a completely incorrect view of the First Amendment. We do not have a ban of one’s religious convictions in the public square. the First Amendment was written by a coalition of people with different Christian sects, some Unitarians, Quakers, and even a few diests who wanted liberty for and an abolishment of any state-supported sect or denomination such as Anglicanism in Virginia. Why otherwise do we have pro-life laws in many states in the nation? Why do we have laws against stealing? Why do we have laws against slavery? They are all rooted in a biblical principles. Neutrality is a myth.

  • Dave

    Whether or not same-sex attraction is genetically determined is beside the point here. If I argue that I was genetically predisposed to beat up homosexuals, it would not be tolerated because such behavior is considered immoral except by a handful of nut birds. It is about what is considered moral or immoral and it has now gotten to the point where leftist secularists want merely the thought that same-sex behavior is immoral to be banned from the public square, even if it is thought one expresses outside of the workplace.

  • Dave

    In other words, orthodox Christians who hold to traditional views of sexuality and express them in written form should be banned from public office. Welcome to the Soviet Union.

  • Dave

    Mark – What does it mean to conduct “oneself religiously”? The bible can be read for historical content in public schools; one can pray in public schools whether they be Christian Muslim or otherwise. Can truth be taught in public school? Can family be defined in public school? If so, one cannot define those words without some knowledge from someone’s woridview. Even the President puts his hand on the Bible when he takes an oath of office. How is that not “conducting oneself religiously”?

  • Frank

    Larry doubling down on ignorance. I guess it’s your M.O. so no surprise there.

  • samuel Johnston

    Gee Art,
    Some of us who took the time to get a “liberal” education (no job training or practical skills) might wonder what you are talking about. True, that far too many academics are in lockstep (do not dare have independent judgments) and oppose the sort of free speech and lively discussions that many of use enjoyed in the Sixties (they are hypocrites), but to oppose studying those subjects that enrich the mind and the soul (yes I said soul) is really obtuse.
    My psychology professor opined; “I hope you guys never figure out any way to make a buck from anything I ever teach you”. What he did teach us how to examine the claims of scientific experiments in his field, and determine whether their conclusions were honest and/or valid. This was/is priceless insight into how avoid being taken in by charlatans.

  • As an attorney who knows a thing or two about the Establishment Clause (Peer reviewed published law review entitled: CHRISTIANITY AND THE FRAMERS:
    THE TRUE INTENT OF THE ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE found at: http://www.leduclaw.org/Leduc_Liberty_Law_Review_Article_5-2_Printed_Edition.pdf ) a lot is going to depend upon the reasoning behind the dismissal and whether the conduct alleged violated the employee handbook for the City of Altanta.

    Couple of obvious Constitutional points. The Free Exercise clause EXISTS for government employees, and is also protected in Federal and State Law. Government employees have a right to free exercise, and government must allow for reasonable accommodation of religious practice (e.g. such as accommodation of uniforms to take into account religious practices of individuals to name only one of hundreds of exceptions). Government employees have a right to free speech as well but that speech can be limited in terms of time, and place and manner.

    The government has a right to put time, place and manner restrictions, that are narrowly tailored, on both speech and religious practice. For example, the Hatch Act limits places time and manner restrictions on political speech for government employees. It does not eliminate the speech, but does provide that the manner of the speech must make clear that it is from the individual and not an endorsement from the agency concerned (for example, an individual running for office who is in the military must make clear that the DoD is not endorsing the candidate, which is why you don’t see candidates in their military uniforms when running for office).

    The employee handbook is going to be what decides this case. If the Chief violated the employee handbook, then he will have a problem. More importantly, however, for the Mayor, is whether or not the Chief is being punished for his views, expressed in a book that is constitutionally protected, and completed during his off duty hours.

    1. The chief has a constitutional right to state an opinion in his private capacity that cannot be abridged by the government on the basis of his employment. PERIOD…end of discussion…end of story.

    2. The government has a right to ensure that said opinion is not endorsed by government and is solely the opinion of the individual in his own capacity.

    3. The employee may not asset his opinion on the government’s dime or time.

    4. The government may not punish an employee for their privately held opinions and beliefs, even those that are published, if done off government time, and done in their OWN private capacity.

    In short, the mere fact that one is employed by the State, does not mean that their constitutional rights are diminished one iota. What it does mean, however, is that the quid pro quo of government employment, like private business, is that the employer can place time and manner restrictions on speech, and must provide reasonable accommodation for religious practice.

    In my view, it appears that the Chief has been discriminated against.

    In my view, the Chief may be properly reprimanded for engaging in his private speech not related to his government tasks on government time. The Government has a right to ensure, if they so choose to (in the case, it appears the City Government, via the elected mayor, so chose) limit religious speech. So long as this regulation is consistent to all speech (political and commercial as well) the Government’s position is well placed.

    The key to the case is that the employee handbook likely spells out a specific punishment for violations of these types of activities. Additionally, there are also past cases (has anyone else ever been fired for the same conduct?) that provide guidance as to punishment. If the answer to the latter question is no, the City should be prepared to write a large check.

    In short, the Mayor’s pronouncements on this issue has weakened the City’s case SUBSTANTIALLY IMHO, making it appear that the motivation was simply done because the Mayor did not “AGREE” with the constitutionally protected speech of the Fire Chief. The Fire Chief, while allegedly fired for violations of the City Handbook, would appear to actually have been let go for invalid reasons in violation of the Constitutional guarantees to free speech and free exercise. Any skilled lawyer will be able to bring that out in their case in chief. It is for these reasons that good labor counselors always tell supervisors to be VERY careful in what you say, as it could come back to bite you in the end.

    My prediction…The city settles with the Chief by writing a substantial check that covers several years of pay, plus attorney fees.

  • Dave–
    No doubt there are tricky questions, particularly in today’s digital world, where it can be hard to distinguish private (Facebook?) from public behavior. Certainly public officials — government employees — have the right to belong to the religious institution of their choice, to teach in Sunday School, to go on missions, etc. The issues in Cochran’s case are not particularly tricky. He published his book (which is on Amazon) identifying himself as Atlanta’s fire chief, and he gave the book to subordinates, in some cases when they did not ask for it. That’s was, in my view, over the line. Whether he deserved to be fired as opposed to being sanctioned (further) is a fair question. But it’s more of a problem when a supervisor imposes his or her religious views on subordinates than when the rank and file express their views in the line of work. These issues need to be approached with care.

  • steve watson

    What is an endorsement of religion? If the president quotes the Bible, it is both an endorsement of the thought and the book, unless of course, there is a disclaimer which would undermine the thought of the quotation entirely. According to your logic, the president has then endorsed a religion and should conswequently be removed from office. You would probably say this is an overreaction, but where does one draw the line?

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Dave,
    I agree with you, in part at least. It seems that policies which were well intentioned have evolved into blandness, and valueless values.
    My family moved a lot, I was lucky to have gone to several different public schools, and been exposed to lots of different opinions and values. We had Bible reading and prayer daily, a Jewish kid read from the Torah once a week, and our teachers expressed their opinions on all subjects, including dress, deportment, and occasionally on the dress and makeup worn by students.
    It seems peculiar to me that diversity should have come to mean sex and race, but not opinion. I do not mean that the evangelicals, or any other group should be given free reign, but for the students of any age to know that adults are expected to have values and opinions would be a good thing. We need to
    rethink this whole mess. Respect for diverse values seems to me a better goal than the absence of exposure to personal values.

  • Frank

    Thanks for the much needed legal clarity!

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Patrick,
    Your summary demonstrates what a screw up our profession has made of these important public matters. The end result of this mess will mean the enrichment of lawyers at the expense of the taxpayer. Good job fraternal brothers!

  • You can study literature all you care to. The question at hand should be the role of higher education in sorting labor markets, the role of the arts and sciences faculties therein as a component of that, and the influence the arts and sciences faculty has in public discussion. If they amount to a wretched bunch of social sectaries who advocate unjust causes reflexively (and that merely overstates matters), the rest of us are acting properly to minimize their influence over labor markets and public policy.

  • One other comment that needs stating: We should all be scared when a writer with a Ph.D states the following (with no apparent consideration of WHAT he is actually suggesting): “Suppose a public official published and distributed to subordinates a book that, in a single sentence, made religiously based claims about Jews and Muslims not going to heaven or about how God opposes mixed-race marriage. Publication of such beliefs — perfectly legitimate under the First Amendment — would be widely accepted as a disqualification from holding public office.”

    Such a suggestion mean that over 100 million Christians, who ACTUALLY take seriously Christ’s statement of exclusivity: (I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me!) are no disqualified from seeking office. I suppose if you ACTUALLY take the Bible seriously as God’s inerrant word, that you are officially disqualified from seeking government employment, or elected office. To believe the author, is to believe that Bible believing Christians should keep their views “in the closet” (oh the irony…what is right is now wrong and what was wrong is now oh soooooo right!) To that extent, Muslims and Mormons need not apply as well…Should Christians who take Genesis Chapter’s 1-3 seriously need not apply in a world that assumes evolution as the basis for the creation of life? What about a belief in a virgin birth, or that Christ rose from the Dead….are these belief also disqualifying? Of is just the belief in the central tenants of Christianity that are disqualifying? Are the only Christians that need to apply are the ones who don’t believe in….Christianity? Seriously, it is that sort of deficit thinking that causes me to question the writers intellect.

    Is this going to be our standard? That only people who are universalist in their thinking are allowed to run for office? With respect to Dr. Silk…that is the stuff of room temp I.Q., and causes me to question how someone of his intellect got his Ph.D. That is truly and absurd statement that is indefensible, and I call on Dr. Silk to publicly clarify his statement by withdrawing it.

    But how about this gem:
    “The same goes for views on homosexuality, no matter how sincerely held or widely shared within one’s own religious community. Legal norms have changed, and like it or not, that means that public officials have to maintain strict limits on any views they share contrary to those norms.”

    Oh, I see…so if you stand on a Biblical standard, I suppose you are relegated to the back of the bus, so too speak? Let’s speak plainly….the true translation is that if your views on homosexuality offend Dr. Silk’s views, then you are disqualified for office, or should simply keep your views in the closet, as they are not longer acceptable to polite society….

    What are these “norms” that Dr. Silk infers that public official are no longer able to cross? I suppose Dr. Silk should care to define them for us? Heaven forbid that any public official take a stand contrary to what he defines as contrary to the public norm. I suppose President Obama was wrong to publicly pronounce only 4 years ago that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman….oh how times have changed all these many long years..opps…months…days…(on second thought, as it applies to our President, maybe Dr. Silk is on to something….)

    Seriously, the article is incredibly shallow intellectually. I expect more from a Ph.D. But alas, what is there left to expect anymore from the academy whose only thought process left is that given to it from the politically correct herd

  • Larry

    I would not crow about that qualification too much. Anyone who knows a thing or two about law schools and constitutional law laughs at such an assertion. Liberty Law School is ranked one of the worst in the nation with a reputation for misrepresenting religious freedom.

    Someone who made law review at Liberty University Law School is not someone who is going to be considered knowledgeable as to the establishment clause. The school serves as a right wingnut welfare program for Bible thumpers.

    Free exercise of religion has little to do with publishing a screed and handing it out to co-workers. A political appointee works at the discretion of the elected figure(s) which brought them to the position and maintains them into a position. There is no necessity to justify firing them beyond political expedience. In this case bad PR.

  • Garson Abuita

    Mark gave the example of someone publishing and distributing a book to his subordinates saying, for example, that Jews and Muslims were going to hell. It’s not the same as merely holding those beliefs. The truth is that there’s a lot to this case, from public employee free speech rights, free exercise, employee discipline, pretext… without seeing the pleadings and depositions, it’s premature to say who’s going to win.

  • samuel Johnston

    Pat, Pat,
    You have run completely off he rails. 50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong?
    1)”100 million Christians, who ACTUALLY take seriously Christ’s statement of exclusivity: ”
    I take this very seriously. It is my principle objection to your religion. Its official doctrine defines intolerance. Fortunately, many, if not most Christians today reject this view.

    “…ACTUALLY take the Bible seriously as God’s inerrant word, that you are officially disqualified from seeking government employment, or elected office.”
    No public official should use such extreme (yes extreme and ignorant views) into his public duties. Roy Moore has done so, and has generated much opposition with this dangerous demagoguery.
    As for your I.Q Insult. Speaking as a 2 per center in the I.Q. Bell curve myself,
    I think you are in need of counseling, not to mention some remedial study of ancient history and mythology. A course in gentlemanly manners would also not be amiss.

  • samuel Johnston

    I am opposed to “the role of higher education in sorting labor markets”.
    I am with Charles Murray. Education should be totally divorced from job training. The end.

  • Sam Rb

    Your post illustrates support for thought crime. George Orwell would be proud.

    The Chief wrote a book in which a single sentence or two were devoted to the topic of homosexuality. There is no evidence that he ever DID anything wrong based on those beliefs.

    In your opinion, he must be punished for merely holding those ideas, and not hiding them. Even if he were willing to act completely contrary to those ideas in his work life, he must be punished for expressing such ideas.

    Welcome back to the 1950’s, where merely holding communist beliefs could get you fired. Even if you had done nothing overt.

    Or perhaps more apt, welcome to 1984.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Daniel,
    My home State of Alabama is occasionally, perhaps accidentally, on the side of progress. Our “Oath” reads.” I solemnly swear or affirm. ” I have been told that the reason is that some Christian sects object to swearing.
    In any case I am glad for the choice, so one does not have to make an issue of it.

  • Hi Samuel,
    That bit of progress was made a couple of centuries ago, in deference to the Quaker refusal to swear oaths. Alabama is here, I’m afraid, just following customary American practice. Why, they even do it in Georgia (where I covered a courthouse, once upon a time)!

  • Sam…given your inability at reading comprehension, I suspect your comment about your I.Q. to be hyperbole…and those with high IQs, need not brag about it…as it would show in their ability to make a reasoned argument; something of which you sorely lack. Go back and re-read my comments, and you might comprehend that Professor’s Silk comments (of which you apparently subscribe) would naturally result in disqualifying anyone who takes the Bible seriously (e.g. 100 million). The idea that you attack (the point you were looking for in logic would be “Argumentum ad populum” was clearly NOT being made by me. I was simply suggesting that the policy proscription being promoted by the author would essentially deny constitutional protections to 1/3 of the country. This reasoning was apparently beyond you, and given your insult toward the end of your rant, I think all that can be said about you is the following:
    “Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God …”

    And advice to myself:

    Proverbs 26:4 “4 When arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are…

  • Janie

    Fmr NFL player Craig James was also fired from Fox Sports when astute gay activists researched his past and discovered he’d once made a comment Against gay marriage 1 1/2 years prior. Apparently, you only have to have previously-communicated views to be escorted from the stream of commerce by the Gaystapo.

  • Proverbs 26:4 “4 When arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are…”

    Your legal opinions are equal to your legal education….He was not an at will employee…..

  • Garson….re-read what he wrote…he went MUCH farther. He stated that holding to those views and making them known publicly disqualifies one from office “Suppose a public official published and distributed to subordinates a book that, in a single sentence, made religiously based claims about Jews and Muslims not going to heaven …. would be widely accepted as a disqualification from holding public office.”

    So much for the 1st Amendment…but also, so much for anyone who takes the Bible seriously. Christ makes a claim of exclusivity, and commands his adherents to spread the good news of His salvation…but according to the author, that is disqualifying if you make that view publicly known (e.g. facebook…twitter…this website thread???). I suppose by those standards, I am disqualified from public office.

    Good news for all the Atheists out there I suppose…bad news for our Republic.

    What is being proposed, in many places, is that Christians have a freedom to worship, but not a freedom of religion. That is, the freedom to do what they do…QUIETLY…in there small corner….in the closet…and under NO circumstances, let it be known that you follow the Bible.

    But going farther, and this is when it become REAL fun…is when Christian (businesses or employees) are required to adhere to policies that CONTRIDICT Biblical truths. It is at that point that people will have to make a stand. Lawyers like me will try to protect under the 1st amendment….but already, the Courts are chipping away at the foundations of religious freedoms…and using useful idiots like our author to push freedom in the abyss.

    This is not a lonely voice in the wilderness crying wolf. This is happening now, and progressively. Before folks know it, the freedoms folks assume exist will be gone, and Christians will be able to worship, but only VERY VERY quietly….

    Already, any Christian who runs for office is one question away from oblivion….how does a true Christian answer the following:

    Q. Do you believe in the Book of Genesis?
    Q. Do you really believe in a virgin birth?
    Q. Do you think marriage should be between one man and one woman?
    Q. As a Christian, do you really believe that Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation…

    You say..hey…no religious tests…. but I say in today’s internet world, who is to stop media members from asking these types of questions…. You say that is nuts….I say wait 10 years…

  • samuel Johnston

    You wrote : …it (their intelligence) would show in their ability to make a reasoned argument;” O.K.,you’re on.
    a.) I did not bring up the I.Q insult, you did. (FWIW, there is no such thing as “I.Q.” The term Intelligence Quotient was made up by a newspaperman.)
    “With respect to Dr. Silk…that is the stuff of room temp I.Q., and causes me to question how someone of his intellect got his Ph.D.” I was simply defending Dr. Silk from your rude tirade.
    b) The only theory the opponents to the Theory of Evolution can cite in opposition, is the ZAP theory. (God said ZAP and it was so.) And you want to talk about limited I.Q’s?
    c) Do you really want to argue in favor of virgin births? If so how many? Hundreds, yea thousands have been claimed. How does one draw a logical distinction except by citing authority? If the authority is always one source, does one have to admit that there is no corroborative evidence? That is the deadly contradiction of literalism.
    One is free to “believe” the moon is made of green cheese, but it is not a reasonable opinion, and it does not entitle one to be immune from ridicule. “It’s magic” is not an rational argument that is entitled to respect, and I have none for it.

  • bqrq,

    “Homosexuals encourage young men to practice sodomy in order to satisfy their own deviant physical gratification.”

    People encourage CONSENTING PARTNERS – not random, unwilling individuals!

    And you make ‘physical gratification’ sound so awful – don’t you ever get off?

    Only the religious mind can get itself worked up into a squirrelly mess over sex.

    Homosexuality is normal.
    Bisexuality is normal and
    Straight sex is normal

    Enjoy it all to your shameless heart’s content. Nobody should care.

    And whether you like it or not… the sex lives of consenting adults is NONE of your Freakin’ business!

  • Larry,

    “Free exercise of religion has little to do with publishing a screed and handing it out to co-workers.”


  • Patric Laduc,

    “Already, any Christian who runs for office is one question away from oblivion…”

    As it should be.
    Because this is the litmus test right here:

    If a Fire Chief claims Gay people are not to have the same rights as other citizens he should be fired from his job immediately.
    The city will be sued to its last dollar if a gay person dies in a fire under the watch of such a bigot.

    If it is your religion to be bigoted, you will be unhirable in the future and in any decent civilization. This is a big change for Christians to adjust to because they are very familiar with institutional bigotry.

    Get over yourself.

    For Peace, Civility and The Separation of Church and State

  • Janie,

    “Apparently, you only have to have previously-communicated views to be escorted from the stream of commerce by the Gaystapo.”

    The American people are waking up to the idea that being a bigot is not okay.
    And hiding behind “It must be true because The Bible Tells Me So” is a level of childishness which won’t be tolerated anymore from civilized people.

    You are free to think Black folks are bad. You are free to TRY to convince others that Black folks are bad. That is freedom of speech.
    Same for Gays – try to convince people that they are evil if you want to.

    But you won’t win your argument because it is a lie – and you won’t be hired because people prefer honest employees.
    And that is the price you pay for being on the losing side of bigotry.

    “Kill Homosexuals” – Leviticus (20:13)
    Believe it if you want. Talk to your priest about it all you want. Good luck with that.

    But Your Bible is evil, bigoted, primitive nonsense.
    Your right to your religion will not go away. But believing primitive, bigoted nonsense has consequences.

  • Ralph Wade

    Heya Atheist Max,
    You got good aim. – You should write a book or something. I would buy it. Not always in agreement with you but I’ve learned a lot about my religion from just watching how you discuss these things. I like how you are not afraid to be an atheist and put that out there so frankly – best.

  • Barry the Baptist

    I think it was pretty clear in the bible that it was okay to kill and/or enslave others and take their things, as long as you’re on the side that Yahweh said you should be, Dave. He had rules and mandates for all of this. All you have to do is listen and he’ll bless you with whatever you want: women, children, sheep, goats, etc.

  • Garson Abuita

    I’m talking about the case at bar, which mirrors Mark’s fact pattern for the purposes of the free speech question. Under Garcetti and related cases the fire chief doesn’t have a good argument. He may have a better argument on religious discrimination/pretextual firing.

  • Gregory Peterson

    He didn’t just stop at condemning “homosexuality,” whatever that ever more dubious social construct means to him, he defamed Gays and Lesbians when he grouped them in with people who abuse animals and children.

    As if that hasn’t been done before about others, speaking as someone old enough to have been accused of encouraging “the unnatural sin of miscegenation.” Mixed race relationships would, the bigots usually say, would inevitably lead to human-pet and adult-child marriages, weaken the country for a commie takeover, and bring God’s judgment down upon the nation.

    So not only is the Mr. Cochran a bigot, he’s an unimaginative one at that.

    I wonder what he wrote about women and non-Christians.

  • Gregory Peterson

    The mayor’s wife is apparently bisexual, not the same thing as being Gay. .

  • Gregory Peterson

    The country has had 50 years of experience with anti-discrimination law, protected classes and religion…even longer in my city and state of New Mexico, which had passed anti-discrimination statutes back when the Bible Belt was hunkering down to preserve segregation by most any means possible short of civil war.

    So, conservatives, stop acting like this sort of thing is entirely new and unprecedented.

  • Larry

    Wrong Dave, your take on the Establishment Clause would have rendered it completely useless and all religious freedoms something which could be easily voided by government. Separation of Church and State was the intention hardwired into the clause. The government can neither support nor

    The Chief was fired for creating an embarrassment for the department and the government. Free Speech does not make one immune to the reaction to one’s speech. As a political appointee, he could have been fired for any kind of action which would make him a public liability.

  • Larry

    My legal education is my own personal business. I am not arrogant and self-important enough to declare that being a lawyer means being an expert in all things legal or constitutional.

    Your little law review paper, on the other hand is proof positive that your knowledge of constitutional law and history is defective and deranged by anti-democratic fundamentalist Christian belief.

    A political appointee is about as “at will” as one gets conceptually. Subject to even less protection than de jure “at will” employees. A political appointee can be fired out of pure political expedience.

  • Samuel Johnston

    Hi Greg,
    Conservative, liberal, progressive, libertarian, etc. are meaningless labels whose definition changes with the political winds.Seriously, what is an anti-discrimination law? Is it not just another sort of discrimination? Indeed, what is a protected class but a name for treating one group differently from another, regarding to their legal remedies. I once complained to a Federal Judge of a discriminatory action that I thought was seriously unjust. He replied that my client was not in a protected class. Something is very wrong with this scheme. We should only have one law, and it should apply equally all. This is not achievable of course, but at least it is a worthy ideal.

  • Chaplain Martin

    I agree with your last sentence. It is clearer than the one you made in your blog. Sometimes, it seems, it is a matter of reducing the rights of a public employee or public official by not “allowing them to conduct themselves religiously in the same manner as private citizens.” A bit of self limiting to obtain wanted results.

    More is coming out on this matter including, the Baptist Press, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a good comment from a AJC reader (who read the book}, and a Christianity Today article and don’t forget MSNBC.
    As I understand it the reader pointed out that the paraphrase of Galatians 5:19–21 was far from the actual quotation found in the scripture. It certainly seems to be a misuse of scripture.

    The more I learn and the more I discuss this with my atheist grandson, it seems not to be so much as case of religious freedom as it is about sincere belief expressed without regard to how it would be received (lack of wisdom), lack of good judgement as he talked to the AJC when part of his suspension was predicated on not doing so. Regarding Mayor Reed’s partial scriptural quote about things need to be done “decently and in order”, reminds me of my Presbyterian Seminary days, I heard that a lot. Maybe the mayor could have seminars on that concept. It would be a lot better just sensitivity training. As long as he doesn’t tell them where it came from.

  • Billysees


    “The American people are waking up to the idea that being a bigot is not okay. And hiding behind “It must be true because The Bible Tells Me So” is a level of childishness which won’t be tolerated anymore from civilized people.”

    “…believing primitive, bigoted nonsense has consequences.”

    Excellently said.

  • Larry

    “We should only have one law, and it should apply equally all.”

    But that’s the point. Its that second part which is the problem. The laws are not applied equally to all. In some cases the laws are created and applied specifically to attack others. We have protected classes because previously they were groups which were the opposite. Attacked classes. The fact that many still engage in such behavior means we are a long way from the goal of equal protection under the law.

  • Chaplain Martin


    Back to calling names and putting people down, calling them idiotic, appears to be a p… poor way to have a debate.

  • Ben Katz

    nonsense of the highest order. Pretty sure if the so called separation was the most vital aspect of the amendment, you’d think Madison would have used the word separation in the text! Besides…as written the law only covers Congress. It was only expanded to cover states and cities in the 1920s.

  • Ben in oakland

    Actually, he made more than one.

    But your comment is interesting. How exactly did this come about? Every news report says that fox news management fired him, after consultation with their human resources department. Are you claiming the gay people now run fox news? If so, there is one set of rules for the news department, and an entirely different one for the sports department. Why do you think that is?

    The idea that there is gaystapo, and that we run the country and the world, is yet another example of right wing paranoia running roughshod over common sense. For the 1% of the population that the right wing continually claims we comprise, a 1% that only 12 years ago could be put into jail for our private conduct, and 4 years ago could be kicked out of the military, we certainly have so much power.

    As Max points out, what is really happening is that 1900, antigay bigots were able to get away with their demonizing and dehumanizing. For the last 45 years, decent, kind, thoughtful, moral, and compassionate people have been waking up to clarity:


    The only way you can endure that is to pretend that we are all powerful, vicious, vengeful, dangerous, and violent.

    In other words, it’s nothing new, nor any different than the 1900 years of antigay rhetoric preceding it.

  • Ben in oakland

    BTW: Just to preempt all the amateur experts in constitutional law: freedom of speech is not freedom from repercussions. Saying gay is a choice and that they have to answer to your Christian lord is pretty polarizing and broadcasters of sports are not paid to be socially polarizing.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Larry,
    I admit to being part radical and part conservative, but to put the law on the side of inequality, (except very specifically and temporarily to clear a log jam – like de jure segregation), undermines the whole enterprise. Long term general remedies based on statistics, are always corrupting. Why should a privileged person who happens to have a Spanish surname be put ahead of a poor hillbilly? This sort of thing just breeds resentment and encourages revenge.
    As I read history, todays oppressed all too easily become tomorrow’s oppressor.
    The English, oppressed the Scotts, who oppressed the Irish, who came to the U.S. and oppressed the Italians and the blacks. Better to keep it simple and understandable. Aim for equal treatment under the law and punish corruption (a very big order).That is more than enough of a task for law enforcement. Otherwise, work for social justice through public opinion and social pressure. That is the better path in the long run. I do not expect many outside the system to agree with me, but that is my view from deep in the kitchen.

  • Larry

    “Why should a privileged person who happens to have a Spanish surname be put ahead of a poor hillbilly?”

    The poor hillbilly has more political clout* and is far less likely to be treated in a discriminatory manner. Majorities who engage in discriminatory behavior don’t let go of their power without a fight. This is why you have Bible thumpers crying persecution every time they are not allowed to abuse 1st Amendment religious freedoms. Its why many defacto segregation efforts took almost 2 decades to remove long after dejure segregation was banned. 30 years after “blockbusting”, restrictive covenants, and redlining were made illegal, you still see its effects all over the country. Literal color lines in communities based on geographic markers.

    I am not arguing for affirmative action, I am arguing for penalties for discriminatory behavior. I would rather treat all oppressive behavior and actions as something to be punished. Focus being on the action.

    But the fact of the matter is, such things generally only go in one direction. By majority group against the minority. Reverse discrimination is a chimera. Something discussed and some claim to have seen it, but lacks much in the way of evidence.

    Is segregation and discrimination any less pernicious when done by private actors than when done by governments? No. One cannot expect equal treatment when you have a majority bent on treating a minority as less deserving of liberties. Public opinion and social pressure, in the absence of government involvement is woefully insufficient.

    *Its the only sane explanation why Ron Paul was able to waste 20+ years of a Congressional payroll

  • Ben in oakland

    Like you, Samuel, I am both socially left and fiscally right, or maybe it’s the other way around.

    I have to disagree with you, though. Legal changes help spur on cultural changes.

  • samuel Johnston

    “The poor hillbilly has more political clout* and is far less likely to be treated in a discriminatory manner.”
    Living among the tribes myself, I opine that this is speculation on your part. T’was all too true a couple of generations ago, (George Wallace and friends) but now? The race to the bottom is much more even, and my political money is on the blacks and the Hispanics. Poor, ignorant, rural whites (who never owned slaves -too expensive) have few advocates, and have many exploiters. Obama was not wrong when he said they cling to their guns and Bibles. Growing up without such luxuries as indoor toilets and gas/electric heat (they burn wood), many nonetheless (like my lovely wife) manage to escape, become educated, and eventually pass for middle-class, but it is far from easy. But hay, we all have our personal stories.

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