Kelvin Cochran's Liberty, and Ours

By Grazie Pozo Christie

Having firmly come out in favor of Charlie Hebdo's right to poke fun, sometimes quite maliciously, at the world's major religions, it seems editors of the New York Times won't extend the right of Americans to hold certain religious views and stay gainfully employed.

Kelvin Cochran, the former chief of the Atlanta fire department, was fired for his sincere Christian convictions, which he was foolish enough to publish in a book. He holds the suddenly unfashionable views that sex should only be in the context of an exclusive marriage comprised by one man and one woman. The Times does not accuse him of discrimination, stating clearly: "It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran mistreated gays or lesbians. His position as a high-level public servant makes his remarks especially problematic, and requires that he be held to a different public standard."

If poor Mr. Cochran was a cartoonist dedicated to the ridicule of religious belief (offending millions), would Times editors support his removal? Somehow, I think not.

The Times editors seem to have a deep sympathy for the stated purpose of Charlie Hebdo's religious cartoons. Their purpose was to diminish the power and influence of organized religion in general, and Charbonnier, the editor-in-chief, insisted the magazine would continue to mock Islam until it was "as banal as Catholicism."

The desired outcome, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a purely secular society, where the exercise of religion is kept strictly private. Frank Bruni, writing in the Times states: "I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish -- in their pews, homes, and hearts."

This is a very narrow definition of liberty that is espoused. This seems to be the liberty to express yourself and exercise your conscience rights freely -- as long as you are holding the attitudes currently in vogue with a certain set.

George Washington wrote in his Letter to the Quakers (whose religion forbade them to take up arms): "The liberty enjoyed by the people of these States, of worshipping Almighty God agreeably to their consciences, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights." The position of the Quakers was not particularly popular at that point, I suspect.

Besides the galling double standard and self serving hypocrisy of the Times's position, there are very real consequences for everyone in this vision of a secular society.

First, churches and temples are schools of virtue, with no replacement in sight. Patriotism, charity, integrity, faithfulness, and that old standard: "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" are not taught in a systematic way on TV or in public school. A healthy democracy requires virtuous voters, with well-formed consciences, making decisions based on the highest ideals, and not strictly their self-interest or pocket books.

Second, a society that no longer has room or respect for faith will marginalize the many millions of sincere faithful. The systematic disqualification of people's most deeply held beliefs may begin to incite fanaticism and irrationality. As Abedelkader Benali argues in the Times about the anger of Europe's young marginalized Muslims: "...the lure of extremism can be very powerful when you grow up in a world where the media and everyone around you seems to mock and insult your culture."

In the case of American progressivism, the culture that is being mocked, insulted, and marginalized is the culture of faith. It's a powerful army that's deployed against religious liberty. Let us pray that some foot soldiers realize that one day it may be their values or ideas that fall out of fashion.  Then they will be hoping for the tolerance they refuse to extend to Christians like Kelvin Cochran.

Maybe they will run across that old standard somewhere: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie specializes in radiology in the Miami area and serves on the advisory board for The Catholic Association.

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