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City exempts Catholic bookstore from LGBT nondiscrimination law

The city of Jacksonville, Florida, has agreed to exempt a Catholic bookstore from an LGBT nondiscrimination law, thereby enabling the establishment to operate in accordance with its religious beliefs about gender and sexuality. 

Last Thursday, the city of Jacksonville and Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore settled a lawsuit that focused on whether or not the religious business had to abide by city law regarding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity even though doing so would violate its deeply held religious beliefs. 

Under the terms of the settlement, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida declared Queen of Angels a religious organization that was exempt from Jacksonville’s law requiring businesses to adhere to nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Hal Frampton, who represented the bookstore in the litigation, elaborated on its implications for the business and its owner, Christie DeTrude, in a statement. “Free speech is for everyone. All Americans should be free to say what they believe without fear of government punishment,” he said. “Christie gladly serves everyone, but she can’t speak messages that conflict with her religious beliefs.”

“Jacksonville’s law threatened her with costly investigations, fines, and damages if she used her store’s website to communicate Catholic beliefs about gender identity and human sexuality,” Frampton added. “Thankfully, the city has now agreed that Queen of Angels is a religious organization free to operate according to its faith.” 

As outlined in the original complaint filed in February, the Jacksonville law in question seeks to “eliminate discriminatory practices in public accommodations.” The law defines a place of public accommodation as “any establishment, service, place, or building which offers, sells, or otherwise makes available to the public any good, service, facility, privilege or advantage” and specifies “[a]ny retail establishment” as a place of public accommodation. 

This caused Queen of Angels to conclude that it was a place of public accommodation subject to the requirements of the nondiscrimination law. Noting that Queen of Angels “also operates a for-profit website where it offers and sells goods to the public,” the lawsuit stressed that “the website is also, according to Jacksonville law, a ‘place of public accommodation’ subject to the law.”

“The law contains three distinct clauses that threaten Queen of Angels’ ability to speak and operate in accordance with its faith: the Privilege, Denial, and Unwelcome Clauses,” the lawsuit stated. It cited “Queen of Angels’ practice of using only [correct and not self-declared] preferred pronouns and titles that are consistent with a customer’s biological sex” in accordance with a written policy that it wished to implement as a violation of all three clauses. 

The written policy in question, as detailed in an order handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Corrigan on July 7, asserts that “owners, and employed staff, while working for the bookstore, may only use pronouns and titles that align with the biologically originating sex of the person being referenced, whether the individual is a coworker, customer, or any member of the public visiting or interacting with the bookstore.”

“The use of ‘gender neutral’ pronouns or neologisms when requested by such referenced persons as noted above, to describe an individual’s identity contrary to someone’s biologically originating sex, e.g. ‘they,’ ‘ze,’ or ‘Mx.,’ is also prohibited,” the policy explains.

The policy also encourages bookstore employees asked to address a trans-identified person with their self-declared chosen pronouns to “respectfully and charitably decline, and instead use of a form of address that does not contradict someone’s biologically originating sex, such as the person’s first or last name.” 

The bookstore contended that the Jacksonville nondiscrimination law violated its First Amendment rights to free speech, association, press and assembly as well as the free exercise of religion and sought a court order forbidding the city from enforcing it against them and declaring it unconstitutional. Corrigan denied Queen of Angels’ requests and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss while ordering the bookstore to file an amended complaint focusing solely on “the religious exception issue.”

Queen of Angels filed the amended complaint on July 28. The Sept. 7 settlement resolves the legal dispute at the center of the complaint, which details how the bookstore meets the definition of a religious organization. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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