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Fire chaplain fired for his disfavored biblical views asks a federal court to quickly uphold his First Amendment rights


Dr. Andrew Fox was fired for discussing his biblical beliefs on woke and LGBT issues on his own personal blog, begging the clear constitutional question: If chaplains can’t write about or discuss their religious beliefs without fear of retribution, who can?

Alliance Defending Freedom has asked a U.S. District Court for a summary judgment in the case of its client Dr. Andrew Fox, the lead chaplain for the fire department in Austin, Texas, who was fired for posting on his personal blog about, among other things, his view that it is unfair for males to compete against females in sports.

Fox filed suit against the Austin Fire Department (AFD) in 2022 for violating his constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of his religious beliefs, as well as for violating the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and for retaliating against him for exercising his First Amendment rights.

A summary judgment occurs when a judge rules on the evidence and statements in case filings before a case goes to trial. ADF argues that this case triggers “strict scrutiny,” the highest standard of judicial review when determining the constitutionality of government actions. The law firm claims that the defendant cannot come close to satisfying this standard because Fox’s termination was based solely on his Christian beliefs and is therefore a case of viewpoint discrimination. The motion reads,

“Defendants cannot meet this high bar…The mere fact that someone disagreed with Dr. Fox’s mainstream view—articulated on a personal blog outside work—does not give the government a compelling reason to fire him. Nor was doing so remotely reasonable when Defendants could have simply clarified that Fox spoke for himself, not AFD.

If it were otherwise, no government chaplain could express a religious view off-duty without fear of retribution.”

Fox helped launch the fire chaplain program at the Austin Fire Department (AFD) and served as lead chaplain for eight years. The position is volunteer yet requires chaplains to be on call 24/7 in order to provide prayer, support, and counseling to firefighters and their families. Fox was commended for his service to the fire department, according to his suit.

During his time serving as lead chaplain Fox also engaged in business and other ministries. Part of his ministry was his personal blog on his own website. According to the initial lawsuit filing, Fox wrote on various blogging sites for years without incident and started his own blog in 2019, which eventually included a series entitled, “Willy Woke and the Chocolate Factory.” In July 2021, Fox wrote his views on the unfairness of allowing male athletes to compete against women, and in August 2021, he wrote about the differences between equality and equity, as well as on biblical justice versus social justice.

Immediately following the posts, the fire chief scheduled a meeting with Fox, where he was informed that some LGBT members of the fire department were offended by his writings.

Over the course of a few months, Fox met with an LGBT liaison for AFD and attempted to determine what he had conveyed that had upset the LGBT members. The comments on his blog were anonymous, and no one ever told Fox what he had specifically written that was offensive.

Fox was commanded to write an apology letter, which he did, explaining that it was not his intent to offend anyone, but he did not recant his views. The fire chief then demanded a letter that included an explicit apology. Fox wrote another letter but still refused to admit that his views were wrong.

Just over a week after he sent his letter, Fox discovered that he had not been invited to a meeting with the other chaplains. He emailed the fire chief’s assistant, who informed 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.”

According to the suit, Fox had never been disciplined and had many times counseled those who were LGBT.

While city officials wanted to silence Fox’s traditional religious views, the suit claims that they frequently take the opportunity to promote their own views, particularly on LGBT issues.

Every year,  the City of Austin celebrates Austin Pride Month, as does the Austin Fire Department, which touts that it was the first public service agency to participate in the city’s Pride Parade. Additionally the fire department has twice required some AFD members to wear shirts featuring a rainbow for Pride Month. Moreover, it not only permitted but promoted one of its members for being the spokesperson of the local ABC news channel’s “Celebrating Pride” special.

In a press release, ADF Senior Counsel Hal Frampton stated,

“Everyone should be able to speak freely without fear of the government punishing you just for expressing a view they disagree with. Dr. Fox served Austin’s fire department—without pay—for eight years with excellence and integrity, serving everyone, including those in the LGBT community. No matter your personal view on whether men should be allowed to compete on women’s sports teams, it should deeply concern every American that the government can fire someone who expresses that widely held view.”

In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette the Supreme Court wrote,

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

That is precisely what the Austin Fire Department is attempting to do by seeking to force Fox to apologize for and repent of his views and by celebrating LGBT pride and requiring members of the department to wear rainbows on their uniforms.

This situation goes beyond that of actions the Supreme Court has previously said violated a plaintiff’s First Amendment rights. For example, in Kennedy v. Bremerton the Court found that football coach Joe Kennedy was allowed to pray at midfield after games without violating the Establishment Clause. The Bremerton School District fired Kennedy for his prayers claiming that, as an employee of the school district, he could not pray in sight of students because he was acting in his official capacity and coercing students to pray.

The Court disagreed, ruling that government employees do not have to give up their First Amendment rights. Justice Neil Gorsuch writing for the majority penned,

“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head.”

That case involved a government employee praying on public grounds, not a volunteer writing about his beliefs on his personal blog. But Fox doesn’t even have to bring up that aspect of religious expression. This is a clear case of viewpoint discrimination, a constitutional violation that the Supreme Court has ruled on numerous times in the past several years. These include opinions like that of Shurtleff v. City of Boston, which reiterated in a 9-0 ruling that the government cannot show favoritism by granting a benefit to those secular groups it agrees with while denying that same benefit to religious groups it disagrees with. In other words, what’s allowed for one group must be allowed for all.

In this instance, the Austin Fire Department specifically singled out Fox due to his views on LGBT issues. What the Austin Fire Department wants is one of two things: chaplains who have no personal beliefs or chaplains who only have one set of beliefs — that of the secular, pro-LGBT agenda shared and promoted by the government.

From a biblical perspective, disagreeing with transgender fads is not hatred nor does it prohibit a person from showing love and compassion to those who are LGBT.

Don’t believe it? Read Fox’s three-part run of “Willy Woke and the Chocolate Factory” for yourself. There is no hate, only disagreement with aspects of woke ideology.

A section in one of Fox’s blog posts, titled “A Room Full of Fog,” is stunningly clairvoyant on his current situation:

“Though we love the word ‘community’ and all that it socially implies, we are becoming far removed from the ideal of a community or communities. We are moving towards a society of tribes who rarely meet (if at all) with other tribes. So, tribal warfare is fought on Twitter where pontification about inclusion, diversity, freedom, equality, gender, and tolerance are yawningly spewed out to fit the singular narrative of the chocolate factory. But such dogmatizing is never sustainable.

The echo chambers can create a paradox of division that build impregnable walls around the Chocolate Factory while flying their particular flag from the highest point. Across the front gate are the words quia iudicium meum iustum est quia est iustus, non est sententia, quod comites (Latin for ‘I don’t just know my opinion is right, it is the only opinion that counts’). And each factory has its own king or queen, or non-binary monarch to virtue signal the woke Oompa Loompa’s.”

Fox has long lived out his Christian values by being more than willing to befriend and serve those with different beliefs. For eight years, this chaplain compassionately ministered to the spiritual and emotional needs of firefighters and their families. And even when attacked for his off-duty, personal writings, he repeatedly attempted to meet with and listen to the concerns of LGBT people, even though he disagreed with them. The Austin Fire Department, however, demanded that Fox change his beliefs or be cast out. So who is the intolerant one here?

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