Breaking: Austin Fire Department Chaplain Fired over Blog Post Objecting to Males in Women’s Sports

Last July, about a week before the Summer Olympics began, Andrew Fox posted a blog on his website. He was writing, he said, as a sincere advocate for women's rights in sports.

Part of a blog series exploring the "woke uprising" from a Biblical perspective, Fox, a protestant minister and chaplain, used the new post to critique the growing trend of biological men transitioning and competing in sports as women. "The issue," he wrote, "is about gender identity and how ridiculous it is becoming."

He wrote about fairness as described in the Book of Proverbs. He wrote about the identity of men and women as described in Genesis and "echoed throughout the canon of Scripture."

And then he was fired.

Leaders of the Austin Fire Department, where Fox headed the volunteer chaplain program, had told him they'd received anonymous complaints about his blog post, which had offended some LGBTQ members. He was asked to write an apology letter, but it was rejected. Fox refused to recant his beliefs. Because of that, he said, he was officially dismissed from his duties.

Andrew Fox

On Thursday, Fox and his lawyers with the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit against the fire department, alleging the department violated Fox's First Amendment rights to speak freely about his religious beliefs. They're asking the court for a declaration that Fox's rights were violated, and for an injunction ordering the fire department to take him back.

"What they did was they punished him for simply speaking about his theological beliefs on his own personal blog, on his own time, unconnected to his volunteer role with the fire department," said Ryan Bangert, senior counsel with ADF. "They punished him for conducting a ministry. He is a minister. And he is talking about theology on a theology blog."

In an email to National Review, an Austin Fire Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Fox's case or his service as a chaplain. She did not respond to general questions about the department's policy regarding freedom of speech and viewpoint neutrality.

ADF pointed out that the city of Austin and the fire department have for years promoted a social-justice agenda and expressed public support for LGBTQ issues – the fire department was the first public agency in Austin to participate in the Pride Parade, had its crews wear shirts emblazoned with a rainbow for Pride Month, and once released a public safety message featuring a drag queen.

"The city of Austin and the fire department are really sending a message that unless you adhere to their ideological beliefs, you are not welcome. And if you speak anything that contradicts those beliefs, there's no place for you," Bangert said. "That is simply not the way that public employment works."

Fox, who was born and raised in the United Kingdom before immigrating to the U.S. in 1999, helped launch the Austin Fire Department's chaplain program about nine years ago, after previously serving as a police chaplain in Washington state. In an interview with National Review, Fox said Scripture Is the "authority in my life." His work as a university lecturer and adjunct, consultant, wedding officiant, author, and real estate broker funds his ministry, which he described as "the centrality of my life" and a "compelling calling and vocation."

"There is something in my heart that cares for, in a pastoral and spiritual way, for people," he said. "That's been the center of my life as far back as I remember."

When he moved to Texas about a decade ago, Fox learned that the local police department already had an established chaplain program, but the fire department hadn't had a program for 15 years, Fox said. He met with the fire chief at the time, and agreed to develop a program to serve the department's more than 1,200 uniformed and civilian members.

As a chaplain, Fox's role was to make himself available to fire department employees in their time of need – after fires and floods, suicides, and tragedies involving death. He led prayers at official department events, and performed eulogies at department funerals.

Fox said he made himself available to employees who asked, often meeting with them outside of work, at their homes or in a café. "I'm not about proselytizing as a chaplain. I'm not about recruiting. I'm not about converting. I'm about serving my fellow human being," he said, adding that he believes all people, regardless of their politics or their social or sexual identities, are image-bearers of God. "I have no problem with how someone identifies. Never have."

A few years back, Fox launched the current version of his blog on his website, where he also sells his books, promotes his lecture series, and offers pre-marriage consulting services. The blog includes Biblically-focused discussions and critiques of hot-button social issues, like identity politics and the "woke uprising," as well as topics like mental health, civility, Advent, the virgin birth of Jesus, and even the divorce rate of his socks. Fox said he has about 1,000 subscribers to the blog, though its available to anyone to read on his website.

"It's very theological. It's very philosophical," Fox said of the blog. "It addresses current situations, but it also draws upon historical beliefs of things that have been true in the past, are true today, and will always be true in the future."

In the summer of 2021, Fox published a blog trilogy under the headline, "Willy Woke and the Chocolate Factory." In the posts, he wrote about logic and reason, personal identity, the gospel, civil dialogue, woke Oompa Loompas, transgender athletes competing against women, feelings versus reality, and the exaggeration of social justice as a Trojan horse for potentially dangerous ideas, among other topics.

The blog posts, he said, are "social commentary," intended to help people to think. "I'm not asking for anything," he said. "I'm not pushing anything. I'm presenting things to help people think it through."

Fox said he sometimes gets feedback on his blogs. He has a comment box at the bottom of each post, where people can leave responses. But more often, he said, he'll get an email or a phone call. Fox said that during his lectures, attendees will often express opinions different from his, in an "extremely healthy process that we call civil dialogue."

He said that after he published the Willy Woke blogs, he didn't get any feedback – publicly or privately – from any members of the fire department. "I've been through my subscribers list. There are no firefighters, to my understanding, that have subscribed to my blog," he said.

But there were complaints, just not to Fox. Department leaders had received anonymous complaints from a "few different members," particularly about the Olympic athletes post, and they set up a meeting with Fox to discuss them, according to ADF.

During the meeting, Chief Joel Baker and Assistant Chief Rob Vires told Fox that his posts had offended some LGBTQ members of the department. When Fox asked what, specifically, had the members found offensive, Baker and Vires didn't know, according to ADF.

Fox made his blog posts private, and then met with an LGBTQ liaison, who also didn't identify any specific problems with the posts, but instead talked about the bullying and mental health challenges that people who identify as transgender experience, according to ADF.

Not finding any specific problems with the Willy Woke posts, Fox made them live again. But the controversy didn't disappear. In October, during a meeting at Fox's home, Vires handed Fox a stack of papers – his blog posts, highlighted and with handwritten notes from anonymous commenters who accused him of male chauvinism, racism, and transphobia, according to ADF.

One commenter accused Fox of "using his position as a Trojan horse to push his own agenda and brand," and added that, "It's inexcusable to have Dr. Fox offered as a spiritual leader and allow him to push his ideologies onto unsuspecting folks seeking spiritual guidance."

"How can the chaplain for a huge metro area fire department feel that it is appropriate to write such an online blog? How can a member of the department feel comfortable speaking to Dr. Fox about any issue if their family member is transgender?" another commenter wrote, according to ADF documents. "How can members of the public (who foot the bill for this entire department) read such perspectives and not come to the conclusion that if they are anything but 'white, male, cisgender, able-bodied, native-born, Christian' that they are not rejected and may not receive the same quality of care as someone who fits into those categories."

Baker and Vires asked Fox to write an official apology letter to LGBTQ members of the department. But his letter was rejected. It was too long, and while Fox explained his outreach to the LGBTQ members and his intention to spark discussion and not offense, his letter did not include an explicit apology for the harm he'd allegedly caused for expressing his views.

Fox edited the letter, writing that the care he provides is not influenced by any members identity. But he refused to recant his beliefs. "For those who are offended," he wrote, "I apologize if my blogs make you feel offended."

Fox said the accusations against him are "contrary to my reputation and track record." But, he added, "I don't want anyone telling me to change my views or my beliefs that originated a long time ago, and still exist today."

Baker fired Fox from his volunteer position in December. Fox said he'd learned about a planned chaplain meeting he hadn't been invited to, and was told by Vires it wasn't a mistake. In an email, Baker told Fox 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."

"It made me feel, I wouldn't say angry, but I was shocked," Fox said of his dismissal. "I was disgusted with the way that had gone down."

Bangert said the law clearly allows every citizen to speak freely and to hold religious beliefs without fear of discrimination by a public employer. "No government institution should ever punish someone, or demand that they apologize for holding certain beliefs, especially beliefs that are orthodox, widely held, that are literally held by hundreds of millions of people across the world."

Fox said he wants to go back to his volunteer work, in an official capacity with the fire department. He said he would have no concerns about going back, even considering the way he was unceremoniously let go. He said he's still working with department employees in the capacity of a private citizen. "Firefighters continue to reach out to me," he said.

"The greatest loss is not me," Fox said. "The greatest loss is the firefighter who does not have a chaplaincy resource anymore."

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Austin Fire Department Chaplain Fired over Blog Post Objecting to Males in Women’s Sports

Fire department leaders told Fox they'd received anonymous complaints about his blog post. When he wrote an ... READ MORE

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