The former volunteer fire chaplain for the city of Austin, Texas, is suing the city and its fire chief over being dismissed because of a personal blog post about his Christian views.
The Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit Thursday in federal court on behalf of Andrew Fox, an ordained minister who had spent eight years as lead chaplain and helped start the program.
According to the lawsuit, the trouble began last summer when Fox, in a blog not related to his chaplaincy, shared “his religious belief that men and women are created biologically distinct and his view that men should not compete on women’s sports teams.”
A series of meetings followed an anonymous complaint.
After not making his blog public for several weeks, Fox met with an LGBT liaison for the fire department, the lawsuit said. Having heard no direct concerns about his blog, he resumed making it public.
However, after a series of anonymous comments criticizing him, Fox was directed to write a letter of apology.
After his initial attempt was rejected, he was told “to include an explicit apology for expressing his views and the harm allegedly caused by doing so,” as required by Austin Fire Chief Joel Baker, according to the lawsuit.
Fox was “willing to express regret that some people were offended. But he would not recant his beliefs because he could not with a clean conscience pretend to have changed his opinion,” the lawsuit said. “Nor would he say that holding his beliefs was harmful because he genuinely believed that he had not caused harm to anyone.”
In December, he was dismissed, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks to have Fox reinstated, have the city admit it violated his First Amendment rights, and award him unspecified compensatory damages.
TODAY: Fire chaplain sues city of Austin for firing him for sharing religious view on personal blog
Our attorneys represent Dr. Andrew Fox in federal lawsuit.https://t.co/JRsx8ZeFNz
— Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal) August 18, 2022
“The City of Austin heard of the lawsuit through the news media but has not received a lawsuit yet,” the city said in a statement Thursday, according to KTBC-TV.
The lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial, said Austin officials “acted unjustly and unconstitutionally. 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. And that should concern everyone no matter their views.”
The lawsuit noted that the case is broader than one individual.
“When the government can needlessly punish people for professing views outside of work on matters of ongoing public debate, that chills everyone’s speech and discourages democratic participation,” it said.
“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.
“Defendants should tolerate and encourage City personnel to express diverse viewpoints outside of work, not try to cancel them when they do.”
Fox further explained his side of the debate in an Op-Ed on Fox News.
“I was fired from my volunteer role because I shared my religious views on my personal blog — views which city officials could not tolerate. The controversial viewpoint that extinguished my career? Writing about my religious and commonsense view that men and women are biologically different, and men should not compete on women’s sports teams,” he wrote.
He said his eight years of service “meant nothing when I expressed a religious view the city wanted to censor.”
“It’s never the job of the government to censor speech based on someone’s religious views. Yet that’s exactly what Austin officials did. They demanded I comply with their political ideology, and when I refused to fall in line and recant my deeply held religious views, they made me turn in my uniform,” Fox wrote.
Although the blog was a personal post not connected to the fire department, he wrote, city officials “disagreed with my viewpoint and used it to end my chaplaincy career and attempt to tarnish my name.”
Fox said he believed he needed to make a stand for the good of society.
“I am not the first to face this injustice, but I am speaking out because I’d like to be the last,” he said.
“Who gets to decide what views are acceptable and which ones aren’t on someone’s personal blog? Or will government officials simply start accepting only those who remain completely silent about their faith, political views, or deeply held beliefs?”
“That is not the America I immigrated to 23 years ago,” Fox said. “No matter your opinion 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 for expressing it.”
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