EXCLUSIVE: The Religious Freedom Case You May Not Have Heard About
Before there was any controversy at A&E over Duck Dynasty and same-sex marriage, Craig James lost his job at Fox Sports for stating his opinion on a religious and public policy matter. Like Phil Robertson, James did not make his comments on the air. In his case, he made the remarks that got him fired more than a year before Fox even hired him.
I caught up with the former SMU and NFL running back today at the Texas Public Policy Foundation's policy forum in Austin. James, the former ESPN college football commentator and Republican candidate for Senate in Texas, delivered the warm-up to the keynote speaker, state Rep. Scott Turner.
Turner, by the way, is a rising star to watch for. His speech was by turns hilarious, inspiring, motivational and brilliant.
It was during James' run for Senate in Texas, a race eventually won by Ted Cruz, that James made remarks that would eventually cost him his Fox Sports job over a year later.
"During a candidates' debate, when I was running for office, the moderator asked me for my definition of marriage," James says. "And I said, I believe Biblically, it's between a man and a woman. As the other candidates answered as well."
Fifteen months later, Craig signed on to do a weekend show with Fox Sports that taped in Dallas. He taped one show, then was called the following day and told by the network that he was being fired because of that 15-month-old comment.
"Fox made the comment, statement, to the Dallas Morning News, that they asked themselves the question, 'That position, on marriage, would not fly in their HR department.' And so they held that against me, and I was fired because of it. It's absolutely wrong." He was fired in early September 2013.
The position that marriage is between a man and a woman is either a majority position in America, or at least a plurality, depending on whether you judge by actual votes or opinion polls. It won a referendum in California just a couple of years ago. It's far from a fringe position, and James makes the point that even if he was the only person in the country who held that position, he still has the religious freedom to hold it. Fox evidently disagrees.
"You know what? Even if I were the only person who believed that, if I were the one percent in America, I have the freedom to hold a Biblical belief. A religious belief. I believe all the Bible, not just parts that are feeling good. That's why I'm fighting against this; I'm not going to allow it just to under the rug."
James applauds Americans who stood up for the Robertsons when A&E suspended patriarch Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty over his comments that were published in a magazine. While not condoning Robertson's tone, James noted that his views on same-sex marriage came from a Biblical world view. Because of the threats to Robertson, and his own firing, James sees his case as a major one for religious freedom.
"Thousands upon thousands of people do enjoy their religious freedoms, the liberties that we have in America. If we don't fight for them, we're gonna lose them."
He is currently working with the Liberty Institute to sue Fox and challenge his firing. He says Fox Sports has "dragged me through the mud" and should admit that they were wrong to fire him.