Atlanta’s firing of homophobic fire chief isn’t about religious freedom

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In an ominous commentary post for Religion News Service, Albert Mohler declares “Atlanta is burning” over the recent firing of the city’s fire chief,  Kevin Cochran. Cochran was fired after a 2013 publication of his self-published book Who Told You That You Were Naked?, which likened homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia, was made public. Mohler suggests the end is near with the imminent threat of Christian’s being fired for believing traditional interpretations of scripture that condemn same-sex activity.

“A new illiberal spirit threatens our most basic liberties, reducing the First Amendment’s protection of free religious exercise to the confines of our homes and our churches, or our minds,” claims Mohler. “If you vocalize your religious beliefs in public, as Chief Cochran did, you can soon be out of a job.” He, as many others before him, are claiming Cochran was fired for being a Christian.

This isn’t the first time Christians used religious liberties as a guise to spout homophobia. I can’t remember the last time Christians claimed their religious liberties were being infringed upon when it was actually about religious freedom. Cochran is free to practice his religious beliefs here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., unlike thousands of other Christians around the world. But this case isn’t about religious freedom and Cochran wasn’t fired for being a Christian.

As my fellow RNS blogger Mark Silk has pointed out: “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.”

Cochran’s remarks in his self-published book also went against Atlanta’s nondiscrimination policy, to which he agreed to adhere to upon being hired. He also spoke to media during this ongoing investigation when his superiors explicitly told him not to. There’s a common theme here of Cochran directly disobeying written and verbal commands from his employers.

The Mayor of Atlanta went on record asking people to “stop trying to make this about religious freedom.”

The main disconnect between those defending Cochran and defenders of Atlanta’s mayor is that they’re both using the term homosexuality while meaning two different things. Mohler, for example, uses that term to discuss same-sex sex while the city’s mayor is talking about people.

Mohler claims this is a battle between “erotic liberty vs religious liberty” which shows exactly what he thinks of LGBT individuals: we’re nothing more than sex acts. “Replacing “LGBT rights” with “erotic liberty” reduces the myriad of LGBT experiences and issues to what he presumably sees as a matter of sexual promiscuity, depravity and perversion, something many of Mohler’s followers will agree is bad, wrong, unnatural,” says Brian Pellot on Religion News Service. “It dehumanizes a community seeking civil rights into a gaygle of sexual beasts.”

Religious freedom is not a license for hate speech. And yes, likening LGBT people to those who have sex with animals is dehumanizing and hateful. Religious freedom is meant to protect in practicing religious beliefs without the threat of imprisonment or death.

The City of Atlanta is working to make it a safe, non-discriminatory place for thousands of LGBT residents and fire fighters.  They see us as individuals who have families and rely on the protection of our officers on a daily basis. Cochran’s self-published book creates an unsafe work environment for his LGBT officers, it creates an unsafe city for the residents of Atlanta, and it makes a mockery of key biblical principles such as love and grace.

The Christian self-victimization on this case needs to stop. Let’s stop crying wolf when there is no actual threat.