In their never-ending quest to convince the world that they are being persecuted, American Conservative Christians (an oxymoron, as there is nothing conservative about the teachings of Jesus) have taken up the cause of former Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Chief Kelvin Cochran claiming he was fired just for expressing his Christian religious beliefs. There are at least two things wrong with their claims: 1) Cochran wasn’t fired “just” for expressing his Christian views and practicing his religion, and, 2) the views he expressed weren’t even Christian.
It started when Cochran wanted to self-publish a book called, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” As a major civic leader in Atlanta, Cochran was required to get clearances from Mayor Kasim Reed and city ethics officer, Nina Hickson, before publishing the book. He did not, according to the Mayor, and Cochran has disputed that. Though he was given a copy of the book about a year ago, Reed must not have read it because he only became aware of some of the controversial things Cochran wrote in the book in November 2014. Among the views Cochran expressed was that homosexuality was a “perversion.” In addition to suspending Cochran, Reed also told him not to talk about the book or the suspension with anybody, a point Cochran also disputes claiming he was told not to talk to the media, specifically, during the investigation into his leadership. (The investigation subsequently revealed that no one was discriminated against in any way, shape, or form by the Chief’s views. I applaud the Chief for that much.) The Mayor made it very clear that Cochran was not fired for his religious viewpoints. “His religious (beliefs) are not the basis of the problem. His judgment is the basis of the problem.” But some on the Religious Right refuse to see it that way.
Like Todd Starnes, for example. He insists that Cochran was fired just for being “anti-gay,” that the firing was part of a “cultural cleansing.” As Hrafnkell Haraldsson writes in PoliticusUSA, “Isn’t that what the Religious Right’s culture war is all about? Cultural cleansing? Removing all those elements from society the Religious Right opposes? What makes Starnes’ accusation even more hypocritical, not to say absurd, is his claim that “Christians need not apply to public sector jobs” in Atlanta. Of course, as we know, fake Christians like Starnes love the idea of being able to fire gay people for being gay – or not hire them in the first place – a form of discrimination that is still legal in many states. If firing anti-gay people is cultural cleansing, then there is no denying that firing gay people is also cultural cleansing, which means Starnes has no right at all to be upset. And I am a little surprised in any case, since Republicans love to tell us all that none of us have any right at all to a job.” In promoting a petition to defend Cochran, Starnes actually wrote “Equal rights for ALL Americans! The cultural cleansing of our nation must stop!” Except, of course, for non-white, non-Christian, non-males.
Not to be outdone (or made to think intelligently), Erick Erickson falsely wrote that “But the gay mafia is loudly complaining that Chief Cochran, by writing this book, will suddenly now not put out the fires of gay homes, or something like that.” NOBODY has made any such claim. Why would he think such a thing? I can only speculate that it’s just another example of the psychological projection from which many conservatives suffer. It always amazes me that Conservatives will express such open hatred of Liberals because they don’t like the way we think, but then they just assume that we would behave in exactly the same manner they would in a given situation. And, like Starnes, he completely distorts the reality of the situation by claiming, “What Mayor Reed and the gay rights community are saying is that if you work for government you cannot be open about your Christian faith.”
No, Erick. No, Todd. That is not at all what the Mayor is saying. Cochran identified himself in his book as the AFRD Chief, so he was not simply expressing his personal views as an ordinary citizen, which he has every constitutional right to do. By identifying himself that way, he was speaking as an Atlanta City Official, and that was where he went wrong. (Distributing copies of his book to other city employees, some of whom didn’t ask for it, and on city property, was also a violation of the law, and another reason for his dismissal.) Mayor Reed made it quite clear that Chief Cochran was fired for his “judgment and management skills” and that the Chief’s “personal religious beliefs are not the issue.” But Religious Conservatives, who clearly have no understanding of the First Amendment, think that expressing hate-filled views should be totally acceptable because it’s not just a free speech issue, it’s a religious freedom issue. Wrong! You have the right to express your hate-filled views all you want, but it does not mean that I have to respect those views or accept them as valid. I don’t. Jesus never said homosexuality was bad. In fact, he never said the word “homosexual” in his life, and not just because he didn’t speak English, but because the word wasn’t even in use until the 1800s. (BTW, modern Bibles that use the word “homosexual(s)” are making it up. The original language in which the Gospels were written did not use that word.) In fact, there’s a lot that Religious Conservatives get wrong about what’s in the Bible. (And, yes, Starnes attacked Newsweek and Eichenwald for that article, too.)
You have the right to say whatever you want in this country, but you do not have the right to expect that there will never be consequences for what you say. If you’re a public employee, there are standards the public rightly expects you to meet, and one of those is to keep your stupid, ignorant, false opinions to yourself, and to not speak them in your capacity as a public official. Cochran failed to do this. And while I certainly respect the fact that you have opinions which differ from my own, that does not mean that I have to give those opinions, or you, any respect at all. Am I required to respect you or your opinion if you say something ignorant like, “All Mexicans are lazy”? No, I am not. And if you work for me and I hear you say that, I’ll fire you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. I have not violated your First Amendment rights in any way. The First Amendment does not protect you from me, it protects you from your government. It guarantees that while you can be fired for saying stupid, ignorant things, you can’t be jailed for saying them. You can say them and remain free. You might find yourself unemployed, but that’s because you couldn’t keep your stupidity to yourself. As for “religious freedom,” it’s hard to argue that when what you say isn’t really a tenet of your religion. The same Bible verse used to condemn homosexuals (1 Timothy) also condemns liars. Does that mean Starnes and Erickson will condemn Fox News Channel? What about George W. “The United States does not torture” Bush? (That was a humongous lie, BTW.) Will you condemn him as virulently and publicly as you do gay people? Somehow I doubt it. Oh, and when the streak of 43 different Christians taking the oath of office to be President of the United States is broken, then maybe we can talk about Christian persecution.
This is our daily open thread. Have at it.