After an Austin Fire Department volunteer chaplain was dismissed for views he shared on his personal blog, attorneys are asking a federal court to protect his free speech and religious freedom. 

In 2021, Austin Fire Department Chaplain Dr. Andrew Fox was dismissed from his position after he shared on his personal blog that men and women are biologically different and that men should not compete on women’s sports teams. 

After he posted the blog, an unknown number of alleged coworkers anonymously complained to the department. Fox then had a meeting with department leadership to discuss the posts.

The officials handed Fox several anonymous comments accusing him of “male chauvinism, racism, and transphobia.” After Fox saw the comments, city officials demanded that he apologize for offending the LGBT community. However, after submitting the apology letter, Fox was terminated from his position. 

In 2022, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on Fox’s behalf, asking the court to require the City of Austin to reinstate Fox to his former position as lead chaplain of the Austin Fire Department and give Fox compensatory damages, including damages for the humiliation, emotional distress, inconvenience, and loss of reputation. 

The lawsuit also accuses the city of retaliating against Fox for “exercising his First Amendment rights.” It argues the department “violated his First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion, and violated the Texas Constitution.”

Over a year after the initial lawsuit was filed, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a motion on Tuesday asking a federal court to protect Fox’s free speech and religious freedom. 

“Everyone’s freedom is threatened when the government punishes people for expressing views on important political and cultural topics. Defendants undermined Dr. Fox’s freedom of speech and religion when they terminated him because of the actions of one employee and the alleged disruption she manufactured at work,” reads the motion. “Defendants cannot favor one viewpoint and ideology while silencing another—it threatens the constitutional foundations this nation was built upon. Dr. Fox asks this Court to grant his summary-judgment motion, award nominal damages, and schedule a hearing on any additional remedies to be awarded.”

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Hal Frampton wrote that this incident should make Americans concerned that the government can fire anybody over controversial beliefs. 

“Everyone should be able to speak freely without fear of the government punishing you just for expressing a view they disagree with,” said Frampton. “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.”

The case is currently being heard in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division. 

Emily Medeiros

Emily graduated from the University of Oklahoma majoring in Journalism. She is excited to use her research and writing skills to report on important issues around Texas.