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Fox v. City of Austin

Description:  Dr. Andrew Fox created the chaplaincy program at the Austin Fire Department and served as the lead chaplain in a volunteer capacity for eight years, earning the trust and respect of the firefighters. But after Dr. Fox shared his religious views on his personal blog, city officials demanded he recant and apologize for the harm his blog post allegedly caused. He explained that his intent was to foster discussion, not cause offense, and apologized if anyone was offended. But his apology wasn’t good enough for Austin city officials who demanded total compliance with their political ideology, and they forced Dr. Fox to turn in his uniform.

Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024

AUSTIN, Texas – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a former volunteer chaplain of the Austin Fire Department, Dr. Andrew Fox, filed a motion Tuesday asking a federal court to protect his free speech and religious freedom after city officials fired him for sharing his religious views on his personal blog.

Fox is an ordained minister who helped start Austin’s fire chaplaincy program and served as the city’s lead chaplain—a volunteer position—for eight years. After sharing on his personal blog the fact that men and women are biologically different and his view that men should not compete on women’s sports teams, city officials demanded that Fox apologize, and then they proceeded to fire him. ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Fox v. City of Austin, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, in 2022 asking the court to uphold Fox’s First Amendment rights.

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

As the brief in support of the motion for summary judgment explains, fire department officials highly respected Fox for the work he had done to walk side by side with first responders and their families, providing a listening ear and source of prayer as they encountered deaths, suicides, and other tragedies. Most fire department employees were unaware of Fox’s personal blog, but when one employee contacted the fire department’s LGBT liaison and complained about his blog post about men competing in women’s sports, he was eventually fired in violation of his First Amendment rights.

“[I]n our pluralistic society people disagree—often vigorously and emotionally—about religious issues,” the brief explains. “The religious doctrines that make one firefighter comfortable with a given chaplain may be a dealbreaker to someone else. Not every chaplain will be the right fit for every firefighter. That’s why public safety departments like AFD hire a variety of chaplains, therapists, and other wellness options. But neither the Constitution nor Texas law allow the government to single out, punish, and sit in judgment over certain religious views.”

Fox served in a voluntary capacity as lead chaplain of the Austin Fire Department for eight years until his dismissal in December 2021.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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ABOUT Hal Frampton

Hal Frampton serves as senior counsel in the Center for Conscience Initiatives at Alliance Defending Freedom. In this role, he regularly defends the constitutional and statutory rights of creative professionals, medical professionals, and others to live out their faith in the workplace without government coercion, harassment, or discrimination. Before joining ADF in 2021, Frampton was a partner at an AmLaw 100 firm where he focused his practice on litigating complex employment, commercial, and class-action disputes. Frampton earned his J.D. from Yale Law School in 2006. After law school, he clerked for judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He earned his B.A. from Furman University in 2002 and his M.A. from Maynooth University in 2003. Frampton is a member of the state bars of South Carolina and Nebraska.