Firefighter chaplain fired for religious beliefs, lawsuits

Andre Fox
Andre Fox |

A former volunteer chaplain with the Austin Fire Department in Texas claims he was fired after he objected to men participating in women’s sports on his blog, an action that allegedly offended some LGBT members of the department.

Lawyers for Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization specializing in religious liberty and free speech cases, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Andrew Fox on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Fox, an ordained minister from the Assemblies of God, volunteered as the city’s senior chaplain for eight years, providing support services to firefighters and their families who had experienced tragedies.

The ordained minister maintains a personal blog. Last June, he expressed his belief that men should not compete on women’s sports teams because of biological gender differences, according to the lawsuit.

“No one has ever accused him of discriminating against anyone or treating anyone inappropriately,” the complaint reads. “On the contrary, the City commended him for his integrity and service. Dr. Fox has consistently shared his religious and philosophical thoughts online for years without issue.”

“To remedy these unconstitutional actions and to protect the rights of Austin personnel to hold and hold differing opinions, Dr. Fox brings this action because the defendants retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. , violated his right to free speech and free exercise of religion and violated the Texas Constitution,” the complaint continues.

The court filing argues that Fox’s views fall within the ‘mainstream of political discourse’, noting that many states have begun enacting bans preventing biological men who identify as women from participating in sports. for girls.

“The Austin Fire Department appreciates Dr. Fox’s service as a volunteer chaplain,” the department wrote Friday in response to a request from the Christian Post.

“However, we do not dwell on matters involving staff and/or individuals affiliated with our department in an official capacity.”

Anonymous members of the fire service were reportedly offended by the chaplain’s messages and complained. Last August, Deputy Chief Rob Vires emailed Fox and Chief Joel G. Baker to schedule a meeting to discuss the matter.

During the meeting, the deputy chief informed the chaplain that the blog post had offended some members of the LGBT department, but he did not know who. Fox assumed the issue was resolved after contacting the department’s LGBT liaison, who also weren’t sure which members found the post offensive.

The chaplain met with Vires again in October to discuss the blog posts, allowing anyone to comment. Vires shared the comments with Fox, with some accusing him of “machismo, racism and transphobia.”

One commentator reportedly wrote that “it is inexcusable that Dr. Fox should be offered as a spiritual leader and allow him to push his ideologies on unsuspecting people seeking spiritual guidance”.

Vires told Fox he should write a letter of apology to the department’s LGBT community.

Later that month, Fox penned a letter of apology explaining his commitment to serving anyone, regardless of their characteristics, and his efforts to reach out to the LGBT community.

The first draft was rejected, Vires making it clear that Chief Baker wanted a shorter letter with an explicit apology for any potential harm he had caused. Fox shortened the letter, maintaining the position he described in the blog post, but stating he meant no offense.

Fox submitted the edited letter to Vires on December 1, writing that he regretted that some people had been offended, but that he would not deny his religious beliefs. A few days later, Chief Baker informed the chaplain that he was fired.

According to the complaint, Baker sent a formal termination letter stating that Fox had been terminated “to ensure that all Department volunteer chaplains provide a comforting and welcoming presence and service to all Department firefighters and employees.”

Fox was not allowed to keep his firefighter badge and uniform, which is usually allowed when someone retires from service so they can wear the retired uniform for ceremonial occasions.

“The net result of the actions of the firefighters was to punish Dr. Fox for his own personal speech – unrelated to his professional duties – about the religious views of tens of millions of Orthodox Christians,” the lawsuit states. “Neither Dr. Fox’s speech nor his religious views interfered with his ability to provide high quality chaplaincy to the Fire Department, nor
they cause legitimate disturbances. »

ADF lead attorney Ryan Banger believes that everyone should be able to “express themselves freely without fear that the government will sue you just for expressing a point of view with which it is not acceptable.” ‘OK”.

“Dr. Fox served the Austin Fire Department – ​​without pay – for eight years with excellence and integrity, treating everyone equally, including members of the LGBT community. importance to city officials when he shared an opinion on his personal blog didn’t like,” Banger said.

“Regardless of your personal view on whether men should be allowed to compete on women’s sports teams, it should be of deep concern to every American that the government can fire someone for voicing it.”

In 2018, the city of Atlanta reached a $1.2 million settlement after then-mayor Kasim Reed fired fire chief Kelvin Cochran for distributing a book at work that included a page detailing his Christian beliefs on sexual morality. Cochran was also represented by the ADF, a national organization that has won several religious liberty cases in the United States Supreme Court.

In another case last year, the Virginia Supreme Court granted an appeal to review a lower court ruling in favor of an elementary school teacher who criticized a policy requiring staff to use students’ preferred pronouns. . The court agreed to uphold the injunction reinstating the teacher.

Byron Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School in Virginia, sued the Loudoun County School Board for suspending him after speaking out against policy 8040 at a school board meeting . The teacher cited his faith as the reason he could not comply with requirements for using trans-identifying students’ preferred pronouns.

“Considering the federal precedent to be persuasive, it is well established that the government cannot take adverse employment action against its employees in retaliation for exercising their right to speak out on employment issues. public interest,” the order reads.

Free Religious Freedom Updates

Join thousands of others to get the FREEDOM POST free newsletter, sent twice a week by The Christian Post.

Ruth R. Culp