Texas fire department chaplain axed for religious views
Veteran chaplain sues Austin Fire Department over firing
Eight years ago, Andrew Fox started a volunteer chaplain program for firefighters in Austin, Texas. But in late 2021, leaders in the fire department trained their hoses on him, firing him for expressing criticism online about the growing trend of men who identify as women competing in women’s sports.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court Thursday, the Assemblies of God pastor shot back, alleging the department violated his First Amendment rights to speak freely about his religious beliefs. He is asking the court to order fire department officials to reinstate him to his volunteer position.
Fire Chief Joel Baker and Assistant Chief Rob Vires confronted Fox last fall over a blog post he wrote in summer 2021 as part of a series called “Willy Woke and the Chocolate Factory.” Blog entries on his drandrewfox.com cover the gamut of social topics, offering a Biblical perspective on identity politics, the “woke uprising,” and theological subjects like the virgin birth and Advent.
In a July 2021 post, Fox contended that allowing men in women’s sports contradicted the Bible. Fox criticized “nine male athletes—that have transitioned to become female—bidding to compete in the 2021 Olympic and Paralympic Games.” Called to a meeting with supervisors Baker and Vires, he was told of complaints about his post, but neither could say what was offensive. Nor was a meeting with the department’s LGBTQ liason illuminating. After the meetings, Fox figured the whole matter had been laid to rest.
But then in October 2021, Vires met with him at his home, where Fox said he thrust into his hands a packet of comments by unidentified department members on his blog posts accusing him of male chauvinism, racism, and “transphobia.”
When asked by Vires to write a letter of apology for his comments, Fox complied, but he didn’t back down. “While I stand by the academic logic and reason in my blogs, at no point is it my intention to offend the reader,” he wrote. “Rather, my intention is to open healthy discussion on any topic in a dialectic manner so we can learn more about each other through civil discourse—written or spoken. For those who are offended, I apologize if my blogs make you feel offended.”
That wasn’t good enough. In early December, Fox received a letter from Baker informing him that he was being dismissed “to ensure that all of the department’s volunteer chaplains provide a comforting and welcoming presence and service for any and all firefighters and Department employees.”
“Under the city’s standard, no one who openly holds historic Christian beliefs about the immutable differences between men and women can serve as a chaplain or in any other fire department position,” the lawsuit says. “Americans cannot learn to respect each other’s differences when they face career-crushing consequences anytime their personal beliefs, expressed openly on their own time outside of work, contradict the ideological commitments of some HR officials.”
Fox’s plight is similar to that faced by Iowa jail administrator Dean Naylor, who claimed in a lawsuit filed in June that he lost his job as chief jailer for Muscatine County because of his off-duty public expression of his Christian beliefs. Like Fox, Naylor was dismissed over off-the-job, decade-old social media posts highlighting his Biblical views on various social and theological topics, including marriage and sexuality. His case remains pending.
According to his attorney Hal Frampton of Alliance Defending Freedom, Fox just wants a place on the firetruck alongside other firefighters: “The greatest loss in this is actually the firefighter, because … they no longer have the lead chaplain resource that they so desperately need when facing tragedy and death and circumstances that the average person just would not encounter.”
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