AUSTIN (KXAN) — A man who served as lead chaplain for the Austin Fire Department is suing the AFD chief and the City of Austin, claiming he was unfairly fired because of his views on transgender athletes that he posted to a personal blog.
Andrew Fox is an ordained minister who volunteered with AFD for eight years and helped start the department’s chaplaincy program, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in the Austin Division of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
Fox claims the City and Chief Joel G. Baker “violated his First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion, and violated the Texas Constitution.” The lawsuit said AFD leaders asked Fox “recant and apologize” for posting his views, and when Fox refused, he was fired.
The Austin Fire Department released a statement to KXAN Thursday regarding the lawsuit:
“The Austin Fire Department appreciates Dr. Fox’s service as a volunteer chaplain. However, we do not expound on matters involving personnel and/or those affiliated with our department in an official capacity.”
The blog post in question was made in July 2021, according to the lawsuit. Fox expressed his views that “men and women are created biologically distinct and … men should not compete on women’s sports teams.”
A couple of meetings took place between Fox, the AFD assistant chief and Baker about the blog post. Fox also met with an LGBTQ member of AFD. During one meeting in October 2021, handwritten anonymous comments were brought to Fox about his post.
“Several comments accused Dr. Fox of male chauvinism, racism, and transphobia,” the lawsuit reads. The comments also raised concerns some members of the fire department wouldn’t feel comfortable seeking out Fox’s help because of his views, according to the lawsuit.
Before this blog post, the lawsuit claims Fox was never alerted to any issues with the beliefs he posted.
Fox was then told Baker wanted him to write an official apology letter to the LGBT community and AFD. The lawsuit said Fox sent in a draft letter in November 2021; it was rejected. The lawsuit claims leaders “wanted Dr. Fox to include an explicit apology for expressing his views and the harm allegedly caused by doing so.”
Fox decided he would not recant his beliefs.
The lawsuit said a formal dismissal letter was sent via email to Fox in December. Fox believes “on information and belief, Chief Baker alone made the decision to terminate Dr. Fox from his position.”
As part of the lawsuit, Fox is asking to be reinstated as lead chaplain of AFD, for a declaration from the City and Chief Baker that they violated his freedom of speech and for compensatory damages, among other items.