Five years have passed since former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran’s distinguished 30-year career as a firefighter came to an abrupt halt.
In 2015, the City of Atlanta placed Chief Cochran on a 30-day suspension without pay, ordered him to complete “sensitivity training,” and launched an investigation into his conduct. Ultimately, he was fired.
Chief Cochran had led the City of Atlanta to attain a greater level of fire and rescue preparedness than ever before. And the investigation into his conduct found that he had done nothing wrong.
So what brought about such severe action from the city?
That year, in his spare time outside of work, Chief Cochran wrote and published a men’s devotional book for his men’s group. In that book, Chief Cochran briefly mentions that he holds a biblical view of marriage and sexuality. That’s it.
But the City did not approve of that marriage view.
Thankfully, after Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against the City on his behalf, Chief Cochran got the justice he deserved. The City of Atlanta agreed to pay $1.2 million in a settlement, vindicating Chief Cochran’s First Amendment rights.
This was an important win for all people of faith who want the freedom to live and work consistently with their beliefs without fear of government punishment.
But an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court ruling could open the door for government discrimination against people of faith—creating many more stories like Chief Cochran’s.
On October 8, 2019, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three similar cases, including ADF case Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and two others, Bostock v. Clayton County and Altitude Express v. Zarda.
In each of these cases, activists and unelected bureaucrats pushed for “sex” in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to be redefined to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Harris deals with the “gender identity” question, while Bostock and Zarda address the “sexual orientation” question. But that is simply not how the general public understood discrimination because of “sex” when Congress enacted Title VII.
We’ve already explored in depth what it would mean for “sex” to be redefined to include “gender identity.” It would create chaos with widespread consequences for everyone, threatening our freedoms of conscience, religion, and speech. It would also threaten dignity, privacy, and equal opportunities for women and girls, particularly in athletics and in women’s shelters.
That’s why ADF attorneys asked the Supreme Court to rule in favor of Harris Funeral Homes. But how the Supreme Court rules in Bostock and Zarda is also incredibly important.
Redefining “sex” to include “sexual orientation” has major implications for the freedom of all Americans.
A court ruling that “sex” in federal employment law includes “sexual orientation” threatens the freedoms of employers and employees who hold the longstanding, honorable belief that marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.
For example, it could subject a small business owner to liability if she discusses her beliefs about marriage while at work. It could result in punishment for business owners who, for religious reasons, are unable to offer benefits to same-sex partners. It could even result in an employee being disciplined or fired for simply mentioning his beliefs about marriage.
Sound unbelievable? That’s exactly what happened to Chief Cochran. And Chief Cochran did not even mention his marriage beliefs at his workplace or during work hours!
The Supreme Court has recognized that countless people of good will—from faith traditions as diverse as Islam, Judaism, and Christianity—have believed for millennia that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman. And no one should be punished by the government for peacefully living out that belief.
Redefining “sex” in federal law to include “sexual orientation” would weaponize federal employments laws for such government discrimination to occur—which is why no unelected official should have the authority to make such a change.
Please join us in praying that the Supreme Court recognizes this and makes it clear that only Congress has the power to rewrite the law.