Hundreds of supporters of a fired fire chief in Atlanta gathered at city offices Tuesday to protest the termination and offer prayers for the nation and its leaders.
The Jan. 6 firing of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran has roiled many because it was done after he self-published a book on biblical morality for men and shared it with some people at his job.
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City officials received complaints about some passages in "Who Told You That You Were Naked?" that denounced homosexuality. They suspended and then fired Mr. Cochran, who is a deacon in his church and a devout Christian.
"We're here to say 'no' to discrimination of Christians in the workplace. We're here to say 'no' to bigotry against Christians in positions of leadership," Bishop Garland Hunt said at the Standing for Our Faith Rally, held in support of Mr. Cochran.
"But we're here to say 'yes' to our call to preach the Gospel to every nation, everywhere, every city - and that includes Atlanta, Georgia," Mr. Hunt said.
Numerous pastors, including the Rev. Alveda C. King, called for protection of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the actions taken against Mr. Cochran were "designed to send a message that will silence Christians and in effect force them to check their faith at the door of public service."
Faith in God, however, is what prompts and sustains many people who agree to be first responders - like firefighters - and public servants who put their lives on the line, said Mr. Perkins, who noted that he once served in law enforcement.
After their rally, the marchers went to the Georgia State Capitol and turned in some 35,000 petitions asking that "all that was lost," including his job, be restored to Mr. Cochran.
An "overwhelmed and humbled" Mr. Cochran addressed the rally and led them in the Pledge of Allegiance and the "prophetic, faith-filled, patriotic words" that begin the U.S. Constitution.
Despite the "fiery trial," Mr. Cochran said he and his family were awaiting God's glory and the vindication of "my character and my family."
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said he stands by his decision to fire Mr. Cochran, and the investigation leading to the firing is "closed."
"Let's stop trying to make this about religious freedom when it's about making sure that we have an environment in government where everyone, no matter who they love, can do their job without fear of being discriminated against," Mr. Reed said, according to WGCL-TV.
Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign praised Mr. Reed and said the decision to fire Mr. Cochran was "right, fair and in the best interest of all Atlanta's residents."
A Democratic Georgia lawmaker and some clergy members also seized the day to hold a press conference against "religious freedom" bills now in the Georgia legislature. State Sen. Nan Orrock and her allies maintain that religious freedom will translate into discrimination in the workplace based on both sexual orientation and religion itself.
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