Category archives: Religious Liberty

Standing with my friend, Curt Smith

by Rob Schwarzwalder

April 7, 2015

In early 1991, Curt Smith hired me to serve in the press office of U.S. Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN).  He was my boss for more than three years, working in harness for one of the finest men to serve in the Senate in recent memory.

Curt is a gracious, soft-spoken man who has a deep love for people.  He was patient with me as I grew in my role and has been a friend for, now, nearly a quarter of a century.

He is also a committed follower of Jesus Christ  who, while working for the prestigious law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, also served as head of the Indiana Family Institute.  Now, due to his support for Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s original religious liberty bill, Curt has lost his job.  As Indianapolis’s WISH-TV tells it:

Until last week Smith was the director of public policy at the Taft Law firm. One of its biggest clients is Cummins, the Columbus based engine manufacturer that was a leading opponent of the religious freedom law. Something had to give … (By) last week Smith was in the middle of a professional transition. As recently as Monday morning his Linkedin page showed him working at Taft Law. But an email sent to his law firm address came back with a message saying that he left Taft to join the Family Institute as President, even though his bio at the Family Institute website points out that he has actually held that position for 11 years. A spokesman for the law firm said that the purpose of the Family Institute didn’t match the purpose of the law firm but that it was Smith’s decision to leave … The Taft law firm, according the spokesman, has a principle of inclusiveness, and the when the Religious Freedom law was perceived to allow discrimination against gays and lesbians, that apparently posed an additional problem.

A “principle of inclusiveness?”  Really?  So inclusive that they part ways with the former state director of a sitting U.S. Senator who simply endorsed a bill signed by the democratically elected governor of one of the nation’s largest states?  A bill that mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), signed into law by Bill Clinton and sponsored by then-Sen. Ted Kennedy?

It is a sad day for Indiana and for American law when a man as principled and talented as Curt Smith is de facto forced to leave his role with his employer because he believes that coercion and repression are not Hoosier values.  The moral cowardice of the leadership of Taft and its clients (including Cummins, about whose generous federal contracts I wrote myriad news releases when working for Sen. Coats) is repulsive. 

Curt Smith has the assurance of a loving God and the respect of many friends.  What do Taft, Cummins, and their compeers have?  Gaining the world at the cost of one’s soul is, according to Jesus, a bad bargain.  They might consider that a bit.

VIOLENT OR NON-VIOLENT, AT HOME OR ABROAD, IT’S STILL PERSECUTION

by Rob Schwarzwalder

April 2, 2015

As I write, militants from the Islamist Al-Shabab terrorist organization are holding Christian students hostage at a university in Kenya.  They are reported to have killed about 20 people so far.  Here’s a link to this breaking story: Al Shabab militants target Christians in Kenya university attack.

The violent persecution of Christians around the world is one of the crises of our time.  Doubt it?  Consider the following headlines from the past 10 days or so:

Suicide bombers kill 15 people outside Pakistani churches, mob attacks suspects in aftermathU.S. News and World Report

New Evidence of War Crimes, Genocide against Iraqi Christians, Yazidis – Christianity Today

China jails Christian pastor for protesting cross removal – Fox News

Strangers In Their Own Land’: Dilemma Of The Christian Populace In India – CounterCurrents

Christians in the Middle East May Disappear Within Two Years: Lebanese Leader – Assyrian International News Agency

Red Cross: ISIS Cutting Off Water Supply to Christians, Kurds as War Tactic – Breitbart

Here at home?  Consider this story, published this morning, about a restaurant in Indiana:

A small-town pizza shop in Indiana has closed its doors after the owners’ support of the state’s “religious freedom” law and pronouncement they would not cater a gay wedding brought fierce backlash. Kevin O’Connor, 61, who owns Memories Pizza with his two children in Walkerton, Ind., has closed the shop’s doors in hopes the furor will die down, but the family fears it will never reopen … O’Connor’s daughter, Crystal, says the family is considering leaving the state. On Tuesday, WBND Channel 57 interviewed members of the O’Connor family, who said they agreed with Gov. Mike Pence’s decision to sign the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The family said the pizzeria is a “Christian establishment.” “If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” Crystal O’Connor said. “We’re not discriminating against anyone, that’s just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything.” The family said it would serve gays or a non-Christian couple in the restaurant.

Brutal physical attack, imprisonment, and cutting-off water are persecution of a different type than that experienced by the Hoosiers described above.  But the O’Connors are being non-violently persecuted for their commitment to living-out their faith.

Georgia’s S.B. 129 would free all Georgians from the tentacles of government

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

March 19, 2015

Down in Georgia, opponents of individual rights and personal freedom are attempting to ratchet up their smear campaign against S.B. 129, the “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

This measure is simply designed to ensure that individuals’ consciences cannot be easily trampled by intrusive government regulation.

The claims against this common sense proposal are wild and confused. For example, some have claimed the bill gives businesses an absolute right to refuse service. This is patently false.

The truth is that S.B. 129 provides a method for sincere conscientious objectors of all religions to be protected, while winnowing out those using religion as a pretext to escape application of general laws.

To avail oneself of the protections of S.B. 129, you first have to prove you have a sincere religious belief which has been substantially burdened by the government action in question. Only then can the claim move forward. Even then, if the government can show it has compelling interest in burdening the religious practice — a religious practice of human sacrifice, for example, could be burdened — and has done so through the least restrictive means, it is allowed to burden the religious exercise in question.

This is a legal standard known as “strict scrutiny.” It has been used in constitutional law for decades, and has been applied to religious claims for over 20 years under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) without any documented pattern of abuses such as those claimed by the opponents of S.B. 129. As others have asked, where are these alleged “discriminators” who are supposedly walking away from criminal charges under RFRA? They simply do not exist.

RFRA simply restores previously strong protections for First Amendment rights. The federal RFRA does not apply to state or local action, so state RFRAs like S.B. 129 are needed. The Georgia RFRA under consideration here merely brings Georgia law into line with federal law.

Religious freedom laws like S.B. 129 never used to be (and still should not be) a partisan issue, as they protect those of all faiths and political persuasions.

The federal RFRA was supported by a broad coalition which cut across political and religious lines. This coalition was composed of groups with a diversity of interests, but they were united in protecting and bolstering the First Amendment.

Indeed, a review of RFRA and free exercise case law going back decades clearly shows its benefit to everyone from Muslims to Jews, Christians to Santeria adherents, and Native Americans to more obscure sects as they seek to protect their beliefs and consciences from being burdened by an ever-more intrusive government.

Now, sadly, many have subjugated their protection of the First Amendment to their political concerns. They have betrayed and slandered RFRA in order to advance their political interests, and in doing so, have compromised their stated principles of individual rights and freedom.

Moreover, RFRAs cut across racial and social lines, and apply in a variety of real-world scenarios, such as property disputes, social welfare (just this past year, the Texas RFRA served as protection for those seeking to care for the homeless), conscience objections to abortion, and restrictions on using controlled substances in religious ceremonies. They are not race-specific. They are not religion-specific. And they are not political party-specific.

By now it should be clear that S.B. 129, in merely applying the well-established strict scrutiny standard to claims of religious exercise, does not give anyone a “free pass” to “discriminate.” Indeed, it is notable that opponents cannot even cite to one instance of a business owner “openly deny(ing)” service, as it claims. The reason is that laws like S.B. 129 don’t provide any “free passes” — what they prescribe is that religious liberty claims must proceed through the framework described above.

For these same reasons, claims that the Michigan RFRA will “let EMTs refuse to serve gay people” and that the Arizona and Mississippi RFRAs from previous years are “right-to-discriminate” bills are completely misleading. When people are provided with a proper understanding of strict scrutiny’s application to religious claims, they can see that those making these “free pass” arguments are engaged in baseless fabrication.

Neither would S.B. 129 legalize child abuse, as opponents outlandishly claim. Child abuse and other criminal cases involving bodily harm are prosecuted routinely nationwide every day. These take place in states with laws like S.B. 129. Yet how often have we heard about successful religious freedom defenses to such prosecutions?

These S.B. 129 opponents have discredited themselves and revealed their political agenda by ignoring other instances of oppression to which the bill could bring relief right in their own backyard — like the state of Georgia’s termination of Dr. Eric Walsh for expressing his Christian views. Dr. Walsh preached sermons in his private capacity in his home church. Yet state government agents scoured his sermons for disapproved views on sexuality, and summarily terminated his employment when they found what they didn’t like. When Dr. Walsh is punished for his views, he’s being punished for his religion — right at home in Georgia.

The protections in S.B. 129 are the very protections needed to ensure the exercise of all religions — including that of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and others — is protected. If its opponents had cared to represent this fact accurately, they would have observed that only this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a Muslim inmate’s religious rights under a law applying the same standard as S.B. 129 — the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Yet there is no mention of this or other such cases; this truth is too inconvenient for those leading opposition to the bill.

RFRA never was and should not become a partisan issue, as it protects those of all faiths and political persuasions. All Americans of every political party and any religious faith who care about individual freedom from government coercion should support S.B. 129. The bill’s text and our established practices for analyzing religious claims show that S.B. 129 will merely support conscience rights for all in the face of ever more intrusive government.

S.B. 129’s opponents, including an outfit called “Better Georgia” (which itself is backed by out-of-state groups), should be ashamed of what they have said about RFRA. Georgia does deserve better.

The Threat to Domestic Religious Liberties

by FRC Media Office

March 2, 2015

Anyone keeping a relatively close eye on the religious liberties landscape in this country cannot fail to sense a growing tension developing. Whether it’s anti-discrimination laws restricting the full extent of religious conscience, federal abortion coverage mandates demanding compliance from private catholic charities, or the tenacious Freedom From Religion Foundation mailing complaint letters to administrators demands the installment of laïcité in our public schools, the culture clash between church and state is anything but boring. The Christian Legal Society was fortunate to have Travis Weber of the Family Research Council come speak to us on the topic of Domestic Threats to Religious Liberty. We thank him for his time and for his commitment to fight for our first freedom.

Click here to listen to his remarks.

H.B. 1228: Bringing Freedom to Arkansas

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

February 27, 2015

Down in Arkansas, opponents of individual rights and personal freedom are doing what they can to defeat H.B. 1228, the state Conscience Protection Act, a freedom-loving bill which is designed to ensure that individuals’ consciences and beliefs cannot be easily trampled by intrusive government regulation.

Human Rights Campaign proudly points to a statement by Apple in which the company opines on a religious rights bill it apparently does not understand—for H.B. 1228 does not diminish “equal treatment under the law” for anyone, certainly not based on their sexual orientation. The only thing it does is keep a powerful government in check. The idea that the company is demeaning the religious beliefs of the citizens of the same state whose business opportunities it is taking advantage of is apparently lost on Apple.

Here and elsewhere, opponents know they can’t defeat the bill by simply showing their hatred for anything religious. So here and elsewhere, some put forward religious figures as their “spokespeople” against the bill, trying to use religion for their ends. Meanwhile, these poor individuals don’t realize they are opposing a bill which would support their own individual rights and liberty when the government comes calling for them in the future.

Others don’t even pretend to focus on the actual issue, claiming “the point of the bill is to prevent equal treatment of gay people, even if it has no effect on anyone’s beliefs,” and implying H.B. 1228 would allow a gay person to be “denied a hamburger, an apartment or a job because of his or her sexuality.” Anyone who actually takes the time to understand how the bill works would know it does no such thing. It is precisely the “effect” on “beliefs” that has so many seeing the urgent need for such bills as forced conscience violations under penalty of law increasingly emerge elsewhere.

Enough about the misinformation on H.B. 1228. Let’s review the facts, for truth’s sake:

What does the bill actually do?

H.B. 1228 protects sincere conscientious objectors of all religions from over-intrusive government regulation burdening their religious practice, while winnowing out those using religion as a pretext to escape application of general laws. Neither the Conscience Protection Act nor similar laws protecting religious exercise would allow businesses to “turn away” customers or engage in “discrimination” as they see fit.

How does the bill actually work?

H.B. 1228 allows a person to appeal to their religious beliefs as a basis for their claim or defense in a judicial proceeding.

Under the bill, an individual first has to prove they have:

(1) A religious belief, and

(2) Which is also sincere, and

(3) Which has been substantially burdened by the government action in question. Only then can their claim move forward.

Only if the person making the religious claim satisfies those three elements does the claim move to the second stage. At this stage, the government must show that:

(1) It has a compelling interest in burdening the religious practice, and

(2) It has only burdened the practice in the least restrictive way possible.

If the government can make both of these showings, its law or regulation is allowed to infringe on the religious practice—even under H.B. 1228. However, if the government fails to make both of these showings, the religious claim will prevail, and at that point the person is entitled to legal protection for their religious beliefs and practices. Even then, the person must look to the court’s application of similar laws; in no cases would H.B. 1228 simply allow people to appeal to religion to act as they wish apart from judicial involvement. It is important to remember that just because someone brings a religious rights claim does not mean that the claim will win in every case.

This is a legal standard known as “strict scrutiny.” It has been used in constitutional law for decades, and has been applied to religious claims for over 20 years under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”)—all without any “discrimination” or pattern of abuses such as those claimed by the opponents of H.B. 1228.

This RFRA framework does not permit anyone to automatically do anything in the name of religion; they have to jump through all the hoops discussed above. RFRAs and laws like H.B. 1228 merely protect those of all faiths whose sincere beliefs are in danger of being unnecessarily burdened by the government, while winnowing out those using religion as a pretext to escape application of general laws. For all these same reasons, claims that the Michigan RFRA will “let EMTs refuse to serve gay people” and that the Arizona and Mississippi RFRAs from previous years are “right-to-discriminate” bills are completely misleading. When people are provided with a proper understanding of strict scrutiny’s application to religious claims, they can see that opponents of these bills are engaging in baseless fabrication.

Who needs the bill’s protections?

Everyone with religious beliefs and a conscience—regardless of their religion, political views, the content of their beliefs, or how they apply those beliefs.

Religious freedom laws like H.B. 1228 never used to be (and still should not be) a partisan issue, as they protect those of all faiths and political persuasions. Indeed, when the federal RFRA was passed in 1993, a coalition of groups from across the religious, political, and legal spectrum—from the Southern Baptists to the ACLU—came together to support restoring strong protections for free exercise claims. A review of RFRA and free exercise case law going back decades clearly shows its benefit to everyone from Muslims to Jews, Christians to Santeria adherents, and Native Americans to more obscure sects, as they seek to protect their beliefs and consciences in the face of ever more intrusive government. Moreover, these laws are not political—they cut across racial and social lines, and apply in a variety of factual scenarios, such as property disputes, social welfare (just this past year, the Texas RFRA served as protection for those seeking to care for the homeless), conscience objections to abortion, and restrictions on using controlled substances in religious ceremonies. H.B. 1228 and RFRAs like it are not fact-specific. They are not race-specific. They are not religion-specific. And they are not political party-specific.

Americans of all political persuasions and religions who care about individual freedom from government coercion should get behind H.B. 1228. The bill’s text and our established practices for analyzing religious claims show that H.B. 1228 will merely support conscience rights for all in the face of ever larger and more intrusive government—it does nothing more, and nothing less. That’s something all Americans can support.

Judge relies on decision upholding government¿s ability to regulate marriage as it suppresses conscience objections to same-sex “marriage”

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

February 19, 2015

Yesterday, in the consolidated cases of State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers and Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers, a Washington state court judge held that a small wedding vendor defendant engaged in impermissible discrimination in seeking to honor her religious beliefs and not support the promotion of a same-sex wedding ceremony with her services.

In granting the plaintiffs’ motions for summary judgment, Judge Ekstrom of the Benton County Superior Court elevated nondiscrimination laws over free exercise and free speech rights.

In holding that “[f]ree exercise is not … without its limits,” Judge Ekstrom relied on the Supreme Court’s proclamation in Reynolds v. United States that “[l]aws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices… . Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? The permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances.”

True, the Supreme Court in Reynolds stated as much.

Equally interesting is the language from Reynolds which Judge Ekstrom excised from his quotation:

Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship, would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice? Or if a wife religiously believed it was her duty to burn herself upon the funeral pile of her dead husband, would it be beyond the power of the civil government to prevent her carrying her belief into practice? So here, as a law of the organization of society under the exclusive dominion of the United States, it is provided that plural marriages shall not be allowed.”

I don’t know why Judge Ekstrom chose to describe the Free Exercise Clause by quoting from Reynolds. Perhaps he thought it was his best source of authority; that seems unlikely though given that the decision is over 100 years old and is criticized right and left as “outdated.” Perhaps he thought he was being clever by using another case involving a rejection of religious rights in the context of sexuality.

If the latter, it’s quite ironic that the authority a judge relies on in restricting the rights of religious objectors to same-sex “marriage” is the same authority upholding limits on traditional marriage for the good of society.

For the Court in Reynolds rejected a free exercise challenge to a law criminalizing bigamy, and in doing so, noted the state’s significant interest in regulating marriage:

it is impossible to believe that the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom was intended to prohibit legislation in respect to this most important feature of social life. Marriage, while from its very nature a sacred obligation, is nevertheless, in most civilized nations, a civil contract, and usually regulated by law. Upon it society may be said to be built, and out of its fruits spring social relations and social obligations and duties, with which government is necessarily required to deal.”

Today, if a state tried to uphold its natural marriage laws by relying on Reynolds it would be criticized loudly and clearly.

Regardless, Reynolds actually proves the utility and workability of strict-scrutiny religious rights frameworks being debated today, as the hypothetical human sacrifice and burning of the dead scenarios mentioned in Reynolds clearly would be barred by a compelling government interest, while other religious rights not seeking to override a compelling government interest would be protected under such frameworks. This is precisely the balance needed to sort out valid religious rights claims from invalid ones, and protect conscience objections like those of Ms. Stutzman — especially since judges like Judge Ekstrom won’t.

America’s Resilience

by Robert Morrison

February 19, 2015

Many of my friends, not surprisingly, consider these the worst of times. They tell me they fear for the survival of our country and certainly for the survival of civil and religious freedoms we cherish. There is no doubt that under this administration, our liberties have been imperiled. No administration in history has targeted religious freedoms.

For example, in the little-noticed case of Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC (2012), the Obama administration tried to order The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod* (LCMS) to change its 170-year definition of who is and who is not a commissioned minister in that 2.4 million member church body. This was a stunning example of denial of religious freedom, but the Obama administration took its unprecedented interpretation of constitutional law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Happily for freedom, the Obama administration’s tortured reading of the laws was rejected by the High Court by a vote of 9-0. Such unanimous rulings are very rare in the Supreme Court, as we know. But it is an indication of the radicalism of this administration that it was so determined to crush freedom that it would boldly go where no administration in 223 years had gone before.

Members of our U.S. military—our all-volunteer force—are daily feeling the lash of political correctness. As President Obama seems to make every allowance for Islam at home and abroad, his administration has banned Bibles in military hospitals while covering up Christian symbols at VA hospitals and threatening chaplains with discipline if they even mention faith in Christ as part of suicide prevention programs. The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed for me that the high religiosity of Black women was a major factor in their low rates of suicide.

Several years ago, Coast Guard Admiral Dean Lee courageously stood up for freedom and faith at the National Prayer Breakfast. He said what so many in the military feel: That Christian faith is under attack.

The admiral reminded me of my own time in the Coast Guard and his courage encourages me still. It also reminds me of the hope we have for real change in our country.

The ship on which I served was in the news recently for an historic drug bust. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell (WHEC-719) seized $423 million worth of cocaine. When we consider that it cost about $20 million ($142 million in 2014 dollars) to build the Boutwell in 1967, and that she has been serving our country every since, it seems in this case, the American taxpayers certainly got their money’s worth.

I’m very proud to have served on the Boutwell. But I certainly wasn’t proud on my last day on that vessel. I was leaving the Coast Guard in Seattle in 1978 when I was given a ride home by some of my enlisted friends. These Quartermasters—highly intelligent guys who made the mid watches in the Bering Sea enjoyable—offered me a joint! I was heartbroken. No wonder we were never able to catch the pot smokers on our ship. They were being tipped off. It depressed me and filled with a sense of betrayal.

Four years later, I was living in Connecticut with my wife, a lieutenant commander in the Navy. She came home from Naval Hospital Groton and said we should take a tour of the Cutter paying a visit to the Coast Guard Academy across the Thames River in New London.

I hesitated. I was concerned as I recalled my last day in the service. But overcame my doubts and proudly accompanied my wife. She received a snappy salute from a “squared away” young Seaman Apprentice standing guard at the brow of the ship. He offered us a tour of the Cutter. From that first encounter through the hour-long visit, we saw nothing but hard-working seamen who seemed proud of their ship and their mission.

What had changed? The Navy and Coast Guard had dropped the lax attitude of the 1970s toward sideburns, mustaches, beer-in-the-barracks and had instituted a Zero Tolerance policy for drugs. I didn’t like the fact that my wife had to take drug tests in the presence of Navy Corps Waves, but the policy worked. It largely eliminated the abuse of drugs in the sea services.

Pride in the uniform was restored. Gone were the sideburns. Gone, too, was the 1970’s policy of requiring civilian attire in Washington, D.C. for military officers going to and from work at Headquarters. Instead, officers and enlisted were required to wear their uniforms.

It almost goes without saying the change in those four years (1978-82) was dramatic. And it reflects in no small way the changes in leadership at the top. President Jimmy Carter had been swept out in a landslide and Ronald Reagan was swept in. Reagan loved and respected our all-volunteer military. He made our troops proud to serve again and proud of their uniforms.

When liberal reporters challenged Reagan the candidate in 1980, they said: “You seem to criticize a lot in the Carter administration, Governor. What would you do differently?”

Everything,” Reagan responded with a smile. And he did change everything.

America has been richly blessed by God. We are a resilient country and our hope for change has not died. All that is needed is a leader who will approach the tasks set before him or her with that same determination: Do everything differently.

*The author’s own denomination.

Cochran Complaint Paints Compelling Picture of Discrimination Based on Religious Beliefs

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

February 18, 2015

Today, Chief Cochran filed a complaint in federal court initiating a lawsuit against the City of Atlanta and Mayor Reed for firing him for holding Christian beliefs.

While we are all familiar with the background on Chief Cochran, and the City of Atlanta’s disappointing attempts to defend itself, the complaint reveals quite a compelling picture of Chief Cochran’s experience of religious discrimination.

It shows how Chief Cochran was motivated to excellence by firefighters who saved his house when he was growing up in a poor, single-parent family in Shreveport, Louisiana. From that point, he worked hard, guided by faith, to achieve excellence in what he did.

Chief Cochran had an exemplary career, going on to conduct firefighter training, lead Shreveport’s fire department, then lead Atlanta’s fire department, and finally head the U.S. Fire Administration in Washington, before returning to take charge of Atlanta’s fire department only after Mayor Reed himself “begged” him to come back to Atlanta.

The complaint continues by observing that Chief Cochran was awarded Fire Chief of the Year by Fire Chief magazine in 2012, for which he was showered with praise from Mayor Reed. And under Chief Cochran’s tenure, for the first time in Atlanta’s history, the Insurance Services Office gave the city a Class 1 Public Protection Classification (PPC) rating, an honor shared by only 60 cities nationwide, which resulted in lower insurance premiums.

In addition, as he explains, the chief promoted the development of workplace policies ensuring all his firefighters were treated fairly, and worked with LGBT employees (who he knew were LGBT) to make this happen. More than most, Chief Cochran knows what it’s like to be excluded; he had to overcome racial hostility earlier in his career.

Despite all this, when some protested Chief Cochran’s self-published Christian book, which had been in print for almost a year with no complaints, the city immediately suspended the chief without even discussing the matter with him beforehand. The book, which is about how to live for God, mentions human sexuality only in passing.

As described in his complaint, when the chief was suspended, the mayor explicitly distanced himself from Chief Cochran’s “beliefs” — thus revealing it is his religious beliefs which are the real problem here.

Yet the city is prohibited from firing Chief Cochran based on his religious beliefs. If Chief Cochran can prove that his beliefs were the reason he was fired, he will likely emerge victorious.

The chief will have plenty of avenues to prove the religious discrimination against him, having brought claims under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause for retaliation based on protected religious speech, along with allegations of viewpoint discrimination, over-breadth, prior restraint /unbridled discretion, and unconstitutional conditions. He follows these up with claims under the No Religious Tests Clause of Article VI of the Constitution, Free Exercise and Freedom of Association protections of the First Amendment, and an Establishment Clause claim based on hostility towards religion. Chief Cochran next alleges a Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection violation based on unequal treatment based on his beliefs, and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process violations based on vagueness and deprivation of his liberty interests and procedural due process rights. He also plans on amending his complaint to include a Title VII religious discrimination claim at the appropriate time.

As a remedy, the chief asks to be reinstated in his job, that the city be prevented from taking such action against others, and that it admit it violated his rights here, in addition to other damages.

While his case is procedurally in the beginning stage, Chief Cochran’s complaint certainly paints a strong picture in support of his claims. Why would any mayor want to fire a man with his performance and history as a firefighter? They wouldn’t.

This part of the factual record — much of which is not disputable — makes it look like the chief was fired for the impermissible reasons described in his complaint. In addition, Chief Cochran paints a picture of how the city did not even follow proper procedures in terminating him.

Mayor Reed himself “begged” Chief Cochran to come back to Atlanta, and any mayor with a large fire department to run would want a man like the chief running it.

When this type of employee is fired, a reasonable observer is more likely to conclude they were fired for an impermissible reason — in this case, for their religious expression.

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