- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2022

A volunteer fire chaplain filed a free-speech lawsuit Thursday against the city of Austin, Texas, charging that he was dismissed for expressing his opposition on his personal blog to men who identify as women competing in female athletics.

Andrew K. Fox, an ordained minister who holds a Ph.D., was forced out of the Austin Fire Department volunteer chaplaincy program last year after refusing to apologize for or recant his stance that “men and women are biologically different and men should not compete on women’s sports teams,” according to the complaint.

“Dr. Fox served Austin’s fire department — without pay — for eight years with excellence and integrity, treating everyone equally, including those in the LGBT community,” said Ryan Bangert, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel. “But none of that mattered to city officials when he shared one opinion on his personal blog that they didn’t like.”

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, seeks to have Mr. Fox reinstated as lead chaplain and a declaration that the city “violated Dr. Fox’s rights to free speech, free association, free exercise and freedom from religious hostility.”

“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 for expressing it,” Mr. Bangert said.

The complaint said Mr. Fox was approached in August 2021 by fire department officials who said they had received anonymous complaints about posts on his “Dr. Andrew Fox” website, which promotes his work as a speaker, author and wedding chaplain.

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The officials set up a meeting between Mr. Fox, who helped start the fire chaplaincy program, and fire specialist Xochitl Chafino, one of the department’s LGBT liaisons.

“Chafino did not identify a problem with the blog posts,” the lawsuit said. “Instead, she mentioned other general concerns — for example, that many persons identifying as transgender experience bullying and mental health challenges — none of which were related to or directed against Dr. Fox.”

He was later shown the anonymous complaints, some of which accused him of “male chauvinism, racism and transphobia,” and told that Fire Chief Joel G. Baker “wanted him to write an official apology letter to the LGBT community at the Fire Department,” which he did, but his first draft was rejected.

Mr. Fox was then told that the chief wanted him “to include an explicit apology for expressing his views and the harm allegedly caused by doing so,” which he refused to do.

“Dr. Fox was willing to express regret that some people were offended,” the complaint said. “But he would not recant his beliefs because he could not with a clean conscience pretend to have changed his opinion. Nor would he say that holding his beliefs was harmful because he genuinely believed that he had not caused harm to anyone.”

In December, Mr. Fox received an email from Chief Baker saying 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.”

Several of Mr. Fox’s blog posts titled “Willy Woke and the Chocolate Factory” criticize the modern social-justice movement, which he describes as a “Trojan horse” for Marxism.

“You see, what is coming out of Willy Woke and the Chocolate Factory is the lunacy of men competing with women as women,” he said in a post subtitled “Competitive Bosh.” “The transgender ideology is blatantly hijacking the platform of athletic sport under the guise of inclusivism.”

During his eight years with the department, Mr. Fox was never accused of discriminating against or mistreating people, the lawsuit said.

“To the contrary, the city lauded him for his integrity and service,” the complaint said. “Dr. Fox consistently shared his religious and philosophical reflections online for years without any problem. It was only when Dr. Fox expressed a particular set of views that officials disliked that the city extinguished Dr. Fox’s career.”

Spokespeople for Austin did not return a request for comment.

A bright blue blip in red-state Texas, Austin “permits and even celebrates speech promoting its own social-justice agenda,” the lawsuit said.

“In October 2019, the Fire Department released a public safety message featuring a drag queen,” the complaint said. “In summer 2021, the Fire Department had its crews wear shirts emblazoned with a rainbow during the month of June for Pride month.”

A Texas resident who was raised in Nottingham, England, “Dr. Fox respects the government’s ability to speak for itself,” the lawsuit said.

“And he supports the rights of citizens and businesses to express their views about marriage and gender,” the complaint said. “He merely wishes to enjoy that same freedom.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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