Double Standard: NYT Editors Oppose Free Speech of Atlanta Fire Chief

AP Photo/Valentina Petrova
AP Photo/Valentina Petrova

The New York Times is a staunch defender of freedom of expression. At least as long as it doesn’t involve professing a biblical view of homosexual acts.

In an op-ed yesterday, “Your Free Speech, and Mine,” contributing writer Timothy Egan lamented prudish attempts to limit free expression, calling the United States the “cradle of unfettered speech.” This has been the continuous NYT position following the Paris atrocities committed last week.

In another op-ed just two days before, however, and this time signed by “The Editorial Board,” the flagship of free expression gave its official thumbs-up to the decision by Atlanta’s mayor to sack the fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, for distributing a book he had written which includes “virulent anti-gay views.”

According to the editorial, Cochran, a devout Christian, “was fired on Jan. 6 by Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed, for homophobic language in the book, Who Told You That You Were Naked? Among other things, he called homosexuality a ‘perversion,’ compared it to bestiality and pedophilia, and said homosexual acts are ‘vile, vulgar and inappropriate.’”

By this standard, if Cochran had distributed free copies of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or the Bible for that matter, he should have been fired. Both of these works condemn homosexual acts as sinful and disordered.

Moreover, Cochran does not actually compare homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia, but includes it as a sin alongside them, much as one might cite lying, theft, and murder. The actual quotation is “Uncleanness—whatever is opposite of purity; including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, all other forms of sexual perversion.”

The Times editors later make the untenable declaration that this “case is not about free speech or religious freedom.” Apparently free speech, like tolerance, depends on your ideological drift.

At a news conference, the mayor said the decision was about “making sure that we have an environment in government where everyone, no matter who they love, can come to work from 8 to 5:30 and do their job and then go home without fear of being discriminated against.”

The investigation, however, found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians, a finding that the NYT editors said “should not matter.” There was no evidence, in fact, that Cochran ever discriminated against anyone on the job or the community.

In a public statement, Cochran said the following:

To all of the remaining city employees, if you seek to live out the true meaning of our nation’s pledge and constitution and have a faith, a living faith that does justice and believe that sex should be between a man and a woman in the bonds of holy matrimony, we have made a great statement that you better keep your mouth shut or you will be fired.

The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, said in a statement that “Cochran was persecuted and denied his career because of his privately held religious beliefs,” calling the action “true discrimination.”

“The LGBT community wants us to be afraid of expressing our Christian beliefs,” Graham said. “They want us to cower in the face of their threats to the livelihoods of believers. But we shouldn’t back down!”

On January 13, hundreds of religious freedom advocates held a rally to support Cochran, which organizers called a “tremendous success.”

“The purpose of the rally was to give a show of support for Chief Cochran and to draw attention to the importance of standing up for our First Amendment Rights,” said Mike Griffin, a Public Affairs Rep. with the Georgia Baptist Convention. “I think there is a growing concern among Christians of ‘I could be the next Kelvin Cochran.’”

The case is drawing increasing attention across the nation, and both sides seem to be readying for a showdown.

“True free speech is a radical idea,” said Egan in his NYT editorial. “But at least all nations should agree that free expression is never a reason to kill.”

Apparently, in the eyes of the New York Times, it is sufficient reason to fire.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.