- The Washington Times - Monday, August 3, 2015

A conservative legal defense firm Monday filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against Fox Sports on behalf of former NFL running back Craig James, who was fired over comments critical of gay marriage on religious grounds.

The lawsuit, filed in Dallas County District Court, says Fox Sports Inc. fired Mr. James over his religion, in violation of Texas contract law and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, said the Plano-based Liberty Institute.

Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Institute president and chief executive, said Fox Sports’ actions over Mr. James are “inexcusable” and “illegal.”

“No one should be fired from their job because of their faith. This is the ultimate intolerance,” Mr. Shackleford said.

Fox Sports said in a statement that they did not discriminate based on religion, but merely for pushing “a personal agenda.”

“As we have previously stated, Craig James is a polarizing figure in the college sports community and the decision not to use him in our college football coverage was based on the perception that he abused a previous on-air position to further a personal agenda,” Fox Sports said.

The termination decision “had nothing to do with Mr. James’ religious beliefs and we did not discriminate against Mr. James in any way. The allegations are baseless and we will vigorously defend ourselves against them,” the statement said.

The lawsuit seeks monetary relief of at least $100,000, plus punitive damages, attorney’s fees and declaratory relief.

The abrupt termination of Mr. James occurred in Sept. 2013, shortly after he was hired to join the studio analysis team for “Fox College Saturday.”

Mr. James was touted at that time by a Fox official as a “talented broadcaster” with great “knowledge of college football.”

However, Mr. James was fired from his new position over views he expressed “more than a year prior” during his unsuccessful political campaign for the state Senate, said the lawsuit.

The 2012 comments included “I’m a guy that believes in a man and a woman … Adam and Eve — and what the Bible says,” and that he and everyone is “going to have to answer to the Lord” for their shortcomings.

As “Christians, we’ve got to stand up” regarding marriage, he said, according to the lawsuit, which added that Mr. James “respects others, including those who disagree” with his views.

After Mr. James was fired, Fox Sports spokesman Lou D’Ermilio told The Dallas Morning News, “We just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department. He couldn’t say those things here.”

According to Liberty Institute, Mr. James said Monday: “This case is much bigger than me. It affects every person who holds religious beliefs. I will not let Fox Sports trample my religious liberty. Today, many people have lost their jobs because of their faith. Sadly, countless [people] are afraid to let their bosses know they even have a faith. This is America, and I intend to make sure Fox Sports knows they aren’t above the law.”

Mr. James attended college at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He played for the Washington Federals in the United States Football League and then the New England Patriots in the NFL. Before retiring in 1989, he played in Super Bowl XX in 1986.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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