Religious conservatives to march on Atlanta City Hall

Ousted fire chief Kelvin Cochran talks at a press conference after learning of his termination. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

Ousted fire chief Kelvin Cochran talks at a press conference after learning of his termination. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com

 For those who have wondered whether Kelvin Cochran, the sacked Atlanta fire chief, would become the face of the fight over religious liberty bills in the state Capitol — we’ve got your answer.

Cochran will be the focus of a 1:30 p.m. Tuesday rally of pastors and church leaders in the Capitol rotunda. Sponsors include the Georgia Baptist Convention. From the press release:Your daily jolt on politics from the AJC's Political insider blog

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.

Supporters of Cochran argue that the fire chief was sacked last week for writing in a self-published book that homosexuality is a perversion. In a press conference to explain the dismissal, Reed said the fire chief had not gone through the proper channels before publishing his book, and had left the city open to discrimination lawsuits.

But here’s a twist: After tomorrow’s rally at the Capitol, Cochran supporters plan to march on nearby City Hall.

Updated at 12:03 p.m.: A group of faith leaders who intend to lobby against the religious liberty bills will gather at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Capitol, perhaps intending to lay some early groundwork with journalists.

The group includes the Revs. James Lamkin, pastor of Northside Drive Baptist Church; William Flippin, Jr., pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church; David Lewicki, co-pastor of North Decatur Presbyterian Church; and Rabbi Peter Berg, senior rabbi at The Temple. They’ll present a letter signed several more members of the clergy. From the press release:

In the letter, the faith leaders from a variety of religious and political backgrounds call on state legislators to oppose legislation labeled “religious freedom” bills, citing concerns about the potential for an increase in discrimination against people of all backgrounds.

“As faith leaders from diverse traditions, we believe freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights as Americans, but religious freedom does not give any of us the right to harm or exclude others,” the letter reads, in part.

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Gov. Nathan Deal sounds like he doesn’t have much appetite for many schools-related bills that don’t involve his push for new state powers to intervene in struggling school systems.

You’ll recall from our Sunday story that Deal has delayed a debate on the overhaul of the state’s 1985 educating formula until next year. That hiatus should extend to other school issues as well, the governor implied in an interview.

Among other things, the governor also wants the committee to weigh in on whether to expand the $58 million in tax credits the state now allocates for its private school scholarships.

That means legislative efforts to raise the private school cap to as much as $250 million this legislative session — very popular among Republican lawmakers — could face gubernatorial scrutiny.

“We would hope that those who were interested in that issue would defer to this commission,” Deal said.

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You may be surprised by Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to focus on a measure to allow the state to intervene more easily when school systems devolve into chaos. But the importance he attached to the issue was well-telegraphed during his re-election campaign.

Consider this September post in which Deal told of his teacher/father, who was sacked during the 1940s because he ran afoul of local politicians.

Over at her Get Schooled blog, our AJC colleague Maureen Downey tosses some cold water on the governor’s proposal. A tidbit:

But the biggest problem with Deal’s plan is this: Where is the evidence the “state” can run schools well? Who will run them?

There is no state agency of education superheroes waiting to leap into action. The state Department of Education does not have the staff to run schools. Neither does the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

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The governor is maintaining his wait-and-see approach on the transportation debate.

Gov. Nathan Deal said at the Wild Hog Supper he won’t “prejudge” any recommendation until lawmakers settle on a proposal. Nor does he have a floor in mind for a minimum amount the tax should raise.

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George WallaceThe second installment of Atlanta Democratic Rep. John Lewis’ series of graphic novels about his life is out Jan. 20, and Roll Call has an early look at “March: Book Two:”

The second act of Georgia Democrat John Lewis’ animated history lesson, “March: Book Two,” portrays some of the grittiest times this nation has ever faced.

Lewis — along with co-author and legislative aide Andrew Aydin, and graphic artist Nate Powell — hop right back into the seemingly hopeless situation of attempting to redirect society one incredibly brave step at a time.

The piece includes several images from the book, including the accompanying version of Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

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Meanwhile, Selma, the film about the infamous “Bloody Sunday” 1965 voting rights march that features Lewis on screen, won a Golden Globe last night for best original song.

Our AJC colleague Jennifer Brett attended the movie’s premiere in Selma, Ala. She filed this over the weekend:

When you stand on the Edmund Pettus Bridge with trucks and cars lumbering past, the engines shake the air around you and the pavement rumbles under your feet. It feels like the heartbeat of history.

It takes little effort to blot the traffic from your mind and to sense, instead, the gait of marchers, and then the hiss of tear-gas canisters and the crack of batons.

The wind fills your ears as you walk to the top. Your path rattles underneath. It seems like God is pounding His fist.

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When you’re out of power, you can pitch ideas like this one, outlined in today’s Washington Post:

Senior Democrats, dissatisfied with the party’s tepid prescriptions for combating income inequality, are drafting an “action plan” that calls for a massive transfer of wealth from the super-rich and Wall Street traders to the heart of the middle class.

The centerpiece of the proposal, set to be unveiled Monday by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), is a “paycheck bonus credit” that would shave $2,000 a year off the tax bills of couples earning less than $200,000. Other provisions would nearly triple the tax credit for child care and reward people who save at least $500 a year.

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Another reason why the balance of power in Tech-Georgia football games may be permanently shifting: Killer robots. From Sunday’s New York Times magazine:

The military has developed lethal autonomous weapons systems like the cruise missile and is working on a ground robot to either shoot or hold its fire, based on its assessment of the situation within the international rules of war. It would be programmed, for example, to home in on a permissible target — a person who can be identified as an enemy combatant because he is wearing a uniform, say — or to determine that shooting is not permissible, because the target is in a school or a hospital, or has already been wounded.

Ronald Arkin, a roboticist at Georgia Tech, has received grants from the military to study how to equip robots with a set of moral rules. “My main goal is to reduce the number of noncombatant casualties in warfare,” he says. His lab developed what he calls an “ethical adapter” that helps the robot emulate guilt. It’s set in motion when the program detects a difference between how much destruction is expected when using a particular weapon and how much actually occurs. If the difference is too great, the robot’s guilt level reaches a certain threshold, and it stops using the weapon.


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