But how about this one: a volunteer Christian chaplain fired for his Christian beliefs?
That’s right. Dr. Andrew Fox, who served as lead fire chaplain in the Austin Fire Department for eight years, was fired from his position over religious and philosophical reflections that he shared on his personal blog.
Let’s take a closer look at his case.
Who is Dr. Andrew Fox?
Born, adopted, and raised in the United Kingdom, Dr. Andrew Fox felt called to ministry at a young age. For several years, he served as an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God in Great Britain before immigrating to the United States with his wife.
As a pastor in Washington state, Dr. Fox was surrounded by members of law enforcement and became involved with the Kennewick Police Department. Eventually, he became chaplain for the department and even completed studies at the Police and Fire Chaplain Training Academy.
When Dr. Fox and his family moved to Austin, Texas, in 2012, the Austin Fire Department had no chaplain or chaplains’ program. But the chief of the Kennewick Police Department, who thought highly of Dr. Fox, contacted the Austin police chief to recommend that he bring him on as a volunteer chaplain. The police chief referred him to the fire chief because the fire department had no chaplaincy program, and he thought Dr. Fox could help start one. For the next eight years, Dr. Fox worked hard to build a successful chaplaincy program from scratch.
Firefighting is a difficult and dangerous profession, which underscores the importance of the chaplain’s role. As lead chaplain for the Austin Fire Department, Dr. Fox provided counseling and support to firefighters and their families who had experienced tragedies. By all accounts, he was a well-respected member of the department.
Dr. Fox maintains a blog on his personal website where he shares reflections on religious and philosophical matters, usually geared toward readers in academic and clerical circles. The blog is not associated with the department, and Dr. Fox has never intentionally promoted his blog to any members of the department.
In June 2021, Dr. Fox began writing a series of blog posts on truth, justice, and the good news of the Gospel. One issue he wrote about was the unfairness of men competing in women’s sports.
Dr. Fox wrote with no animus toward those who identify as LGBT. He had worked with people in that community throughout his career. He had even begun organizing monthly meetings with clergy, academics, church leaders, and students to discuss how the church can share the message of the Gospel to those in the LGBT community.
But Dr. Fox’s opinions about fairness in women’s sports did not sit well with one or more anonymous members of the fire department, who complained about Dr. Fox’s blog posts. The department’s assistant chief reached out to Dr. Fox to schedule a meeting.
In the meeting, the assistant chief and the department chief told Dr. Fox that his blog post had offended some LGBT members of the fire department. But the officials did not know what exactly had been perceived as offensive. Dr. Fox then contacted one of the department’s LGBT liaisons to learn more. He had a cordial conversation with the liaison, but she also could not identify which parts of the blog post had caused offense. So Dr. Fox thought the issue was resolved.
But then department officials contacted Dr. Fox again demanding that he write an apology letter to the LGBT community. Dr. Fox tried to comply without violating his conscience by drafting a letter explaining that his intent in writing the blog post was to promote discussion, not to cause offense. But that draft was rejected.
That’s when Dr. Fox realized that he was being asked to explicitly recant his beliefs. But that was something he could not do. Nonetheless, he tried again to comply by providing a second draft apologizing if he had offended anyone but not recanting his beliefs. Just days after sending the edited version of his letter, Dr. Fox was dismissed.
What’s at stake?
Dr. Fox was fired as volunteer chaplain for the religious beliefs he expressed on his personal website. That’s a violation of both his religious freedom and freedom of speech.
The First Amendment protects Dr. Fox’s right to be free from viewpoint-based discrimination. And government officials cannot compel Dr. Fox to communicate a message that violates his beliefs—like an apology recanting his beliefs.
A government that can coerce and silence someone because it doesn’t like his beliefs has unlimited power.
- December 2021: The Austin Fire Department fired Dr. Fox from his position as volunteer fire chaplain.
- August 2022: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin on behalf of Dr. Fox.
The bottom line
Everyone should be able to speak freely without fear of government punishment, and government officials should not misuse the law to cancel those with whom they disagree.
Dr. Andrew Fox appears with ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Bangert on "Tucker Carlson Tonight":
Dr. Fox shares his story:
Photo credit: Anna Kraft