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Christian Conservatives Think Gay-Bashing By Public Official Is 'Religious Freedom'

Christian conservatives have bizarre definitions of "discrimination" and "religious freedom."
Kelvin Cochran,Administrator for the Fe

Last week Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran was sacked by mayor Kasim Reed for distributing to employees, unsolicited, a self-published book he had written that described homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate,” and also said that they "dishonor God." He equated homosexuality with bestiality and child rape.

Naturally, the formidable Christian persecution complex has been triggered once again. On Tuesday hundreds attended rally was held for Cochran at the capitol rotunda in Atlanta because Jesus. And freedom. A press release by one of the event's sponsors, the Georgia Baptist Convention, embraced the usual woe-is-us rhetoric that would've made Jeanne d'Arc blush:

"The unjust firing of Chief Kelvin Cochran by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has awakened believers from around our state and nation to the reality of Christian discrimination in the workplace."

This statement is astounding. For 2,000 years, the Christian churches have been the preeminent source of homophobia in the West, eagerly carrying out the will of god against the gay menace. At the height of their power, the religious fanatics were able to torture and murder those who violated the commandment against homosexuality in the Book of Leviticus, but this gradually fell out of fashion, and Christians had to be content with discriminating against gays in the workplace and social life, and railing against them from the pulpits.

But the tide is turning, as it's becoming increasingly unacceptable to discriminate against gays, use homophobic slurs, and gay bash in general.

And Christian conservatives don't like it.

Hence the hysterics, which include not only Tuesday's silly rally, but a pending bill in the Georgia state legislature called the "Preservation of Religious Freedom Act." But whereas "religious freedom" has historically meant the ability to practice one's faith without fear of punishment, Christians now wish this to include the right of people whose paychecks are funded by taxpayers to call gays "vile" and "vulgar" in the workplace. The bill is hopelessly vague, but it appears in part designed to enable business owners -- like say, makers of wedding cakes -- to discriminate against gay people.

The Atlanta Fire Department has more than 1,000 employees. Statistically several dozens of them are gay, and yet these protesters see nothing wrong with expecting them to work for a man who has shown his utter contempt for them. This is to say nothing of the thousands of gay citizens in Atlanta whose now former fire chief thinks they "dishonor God." And it won't do to say, as many Christians do, that they "hate the sin but love the sinner." Homosexuality isn't a matter of what people do, but a matter of who people are.

Mayor Reed says Cochran's firing has nothing to do with religious freedom, but instead Cochran's disregard for his own position as a high-profile city official. "If you work in an organization, you check in with the person who writes your check [before writing a book]," said Reed. "That did not happen here. I deeply resent the emails and phone calls to my wife, literally calling me an anti-Christ. And I don’t mean one time, or two times. This is what Chief Cochran brought to my door."

Another irony in this episode is that in the state of Georgia, same-sex marriage is banned thanks to a 2004 referendum that added the proscription to the state's constitution. Cochran's anti-gay comments have no business being shared in the workplace, yet these remarks would seem to be a perfectly natural extension of the will of the 76% of Georgians who voted to ban same-sex marriage 11 years ago. On the other hand, a poll commissioned by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed that in 2013, more Georgians supported same-sex marriage than opposed it, reflecting the broader national sea change that's occurred over the last decade.

It's not yet clear whether Cochran will try to seek a legal remedy for his dismissal, but if he does you can be sure more than a few organizations would be willing to pay his legal fees. Should he win, contrary to what Christian conservatives think, it would be a major loss -- yes, a loss -- for anti-discrimination in the workplace. Should he lose, the good news for this latest Christian "martyr" will be that when he's burned at the stake, a few of his fire department Christian brethren will likely be on hand to give him relief from the flames.

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