ATLANTA (Christian Examiner) – In a groundswell of support for Atlanta Fire and Rescue Chief Kelvin Cochran who reportedly was fired for his religious beliefs Jan. 6, a Georgia Baptist newspaper editor over the weekend called for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed's repentance or resignation while Washington-based Family Research Council gathered over 26,500 names on a petition supporting Cochran's constitutional rights.
J. Gerald Harris, editor of the Georgia's Christian Index, official newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention, compared in a "Special Editorial " what has happened in Atlanta to the 1836 Battle of the Alamo.
"It is time for people of faith to draw a line in the sand," Harris said, referencing Col. William B. Travis decision to draw a line in the sand with his saber to which many stepped over – demonstrating their willingness to sacrifice their lives for Texas' freedom.
"I believe that this is the time for Georgians to draw a line in the sand for the sake of Chief Cochran, the First Amendment, and religious freedom and ask for Mayor Kasim Reed to do the right thing and repent of his own discrimination or step down from his position as Mayor of the city of Atlanta so that the city can indeed be a place of welcome for all people."
Harris said there has been a "grassroots protest" against Mayor Reed's termination of Cochran and a call for the mayor to reinstate the fire chief, but so far the mayor has indicated he will not back down.
"Therefore, if the Mayor is an honest man and has a desire to be consistent, he will remove himself from office, because of his own apparent discrimination against Christians who feel led by the biblical commands to share their faith with others," Harris wrote in the editorial.
Tony Perkins, FRC president, within days of Cochran's firing, circulated a petition asking people to join him in standing with Cochran.
"Let's put on notice the Atlanta mayor, and others like him who would extinguish religious expression from the public square," Perkins wrote. "This kind of government intimidation has no place in a free society."
By early Jan. 12, the petition had garnered 26, 577 votes. It is just one of many online petitions calling for Cochran's reinstatement, including those circulated by Lifesitenews.com, American Family Association, and Faith Driven Consumer.
Perkins, in his email, points to "government intolerance" as the reason for Cochran's dismissal after 30 years of distinguished public service as a firefighter.
"Chief Cochran was fired because of a book that he self-published for a men's Bible study at his church even though he had gained permission from the city's ethic's department. The reason? One page in the 160-page book discussed sexual immorality, including homosexuality, which the mayor called discriminatory," Perkins wrote.
EDITOR'S SECOND CALL TO ACTION
Harris' editorial on the matter was not his first. In December, after Cochran was notified of a 30-day suspension, he and other Georgia Baptist Convention leaders came to Cochran's defense, noting they represented 1.4 million denominational members statewide. They urged supporters to sign a petition on the chief's behalf, and have now planned for a rally to take place tomorrow, Jan. 13, at the Georgia Capitol Rotunda 1:30-2:30 p.m.
"But this issue is bigger than the impact it has had on Kelvin Cochran. It impacts every Baptist and every person of faith in Georgia and in the nation," Harris said in his first editorial addressing religious freedom.
Cochran wrote the faith-based book Who Told You That You Were Naked for men in his church as part of an ongoing Bible study that focused on sin and redemption through Jesus Christ. His opening acknowledgement states, "... my life is a testimony of the struggle with condemnation and how a man can grow from strength to strength, through diligent pursuit of fulfilling God's purpose for his life through the Word of God."
He is a Sunday School teacher, Bible study leader and deacon at the 19,000 member Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta, which is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention. He is in his second term as fire chief with Atlanta, having previously served from 2008 to 2009 before being tapped by President Obama to be U.S. Fire Administrator in Washington, D.C. He returned as fire chief for Atlanta in 2010 after a unanimous vote by the Atlanta City Council.
Cochran was notified about the 30-day suspension by Atlanta's Mayor Kasim Reed in November, according to news reports, and was ordered to cease distributing the book on city property. He was fired Jan. 6.
The mayor can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 404-330- 6100, or by mail at 55 Trinity Ave. Suite 2500, Atlanta, GA 30303.