|Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran|
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
What if Atlanta's fire chief had instead endorsed same-sex marriage?
It's not hard to imagine a decade or so ago an Atlanta fire chief getting himself fired for writing a book that advocated for same-sex marriage, basing his argument on the LGBT-endorsing position of his Episcopal Church. Protestors would have rightly defended the chief's First Amendment freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.
If the state at the time had passed a law mirroring the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a hugely bipartisan measure signed into law by Bill Clinton, a court case could have determined whether the government could demonstrate a compelling interest in firing the chief, and whether it had taken the least restrictive means to fulfill that interest.
Perhaps the courts would have ruled that the government either lacked a compelling interest or had taken a harsher path than necessary to enforce its interest, and the chief could have been reinstated on the First Amendment grounds of religious freedom.
The key is to view First Amendment speech and religious freedoms not through the lens of what particular belief is being expressed or exercised, but as a cornerstone of our freedoms in this democratic republic.