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Tipsheet

What First Amendment?: Christian Fire Chief Shares How Atlanta Officials Told Him to 'Check His Beliefs'

The city of Atlanta apparently didn't read the fine print in the First Amendment. It clearly notes, among other liberties, that Americans are free to practice whichever religion they choose. Yet, for one former fire chief, he was surprised to discover that his faith could cost him his job.

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Former Atlanta Fire Department Chief Kelvin Cochran had a sterling record to boast - he had been appointed and was even named "Fire Chief of the Year" in 2012. Then he dared to defend traditional marriage in a book. After city officials learned that Cochran voiced support for the Bible's definition of sexuality and marriage, the city suspended him for 30 days without pay. During that time, the city's investigation vindicated him from wrongdoing, finding nothing to suggest he had ever discriminated against anyone.

As he writes in his testimony, "The very faith that inspired my professional achievements is what the government ultimately used to bring my childhood-dream-come-true career to an end."

The mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, also informed citizens that Cochran was to undergo "sensitivity training" to help him fall in line with the administration's values.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) pointed out the hypocrisy during his five minutes of question and answer time at the House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing on religious liberty and the First Amendment Defense Act on Tuesday. In his remarks, Jordan shared his frustration with Cochran's story. In particular, he quoted Atlanta City Counsel Member Alex Wan, who said, "I respect each individual's right to have their own thoughts, beliefs and opinions, but when you're a city employee and those thoughts, beliefs and opinions are different from the city's, you have to check them at the door."

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"You have to check your beliefs at the door?" Jordan repeated. "Are you kidding me?" 

"That is exactly why we have a First Amendment – you do not have to check your beliefs," Jordan insisted. "That’s what this country’s about.” 

He, along with his colleagues, concluded at Tuesday's hearing that the First Amendment Defense Act is necessary legislation to prevent discrimination in the post-Obergefell v. Hodges America.

People like Cochran, Jordan said, are heroes.

Watch the entire exchange below.

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