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Under legal pressure, City of Jacksonville grants religious exemption to Catholic bookstore over preferred pronouns law

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UPDATE: Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced today that officials with the City of Jacksonville, Florida, have settled a lawsuit brought by Queen of Angels Bookstore, agreeing that the Catholic business is a religious organization under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and is free to operate according to its Catholic beliefs.

Earlier this year, the bookstore, which sells books, crucifixes, candles, and other Catholic resources, filed a suit challenging the city’s public accommodations law that not only would have required store owner Christy DeTrude to use customers’ preferred pronouns contrary to their biological sex but would have punished her if she explained her religious beliefs or posted a written policy on the topic.

A district court found that the law threatened the First Amendment rights of DeTrude and asked her to file a motion for summary judgment. Earlier this week, Jacksonville agreed to settle the case and grant the store a religious exemption, allowing it to freely speak messages that promote its faith.

ADF Senior Counsel Hal Frampton celebrated the outcome as a win for the Constitution and religious liberty, stating:

“Free speech is for everyone. All Americans should be free to say what they believe without fear of government punishment. Christie gladly serves everyone, but she can’t speak messages that conflict with her religious beliefs.” 


ORIGINAL STORY

{Published Feb. 23, 2023} A Catholic bookstore owner has filed a lawsuit in opposition to a Jacksonville, Florida, law that requires businesses to use a person’s preferred pronouns.


Quick Facts


Since the recent expansion of non-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as the broadening of what constitutes discrimination, many religious business owners have found themselves in a predicament: obey the law or violate their religious beliefs. That is the problem faced by Christie DeTrude, a Jacksonville resident and the owner of Queen of Angels, a Catholic bookstore.

DeTrude believes it is the mission of her store to promote Catholic beliefs. She does so by only selling books and items that promote Catholic teaching. The store also holds organized recitations each day. In addition, DeTrude writes a blog on the store’s website as a way to share Catholic beliefs.

As she became aware of new laws surrounding gender identity, she wanted to formalize the store’s policies on it and discuss the topic on her website. During her research, DeTrude learned that the city of Jacksonville had passed an ordinance banning gender identity discrimination. The ordinance may be interpreted to require businesses to use a transgender person’s preferred pronouns, which violates DeTrude’s religious beliefs.

The ordinance also makes it illegal to “publish, circulate, issue, display, post or mail a communication, notice or advertisement to the effect that accommodations, services, goods advantages, facilities are denied to a person” because of sex or gender identity. Further it is illegal “to publish, circulate, issue, display, post or mail a communication, notice or advertisement to the effect that… the patronage of such person is unwelcome, objectionable, or unacceptable.”

This would make it illegal for DeTrude to post her beliefs and policies regarding gender identity and would also make it unlawful for her to discuss Catholic doctrine on sex and gender identity.

Because of this, the proprietor has filed a legal objection to the law with representation from conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The case, Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore v. City of Jacksonville, will be considered by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division.

“Free speech is for everyone. Americans should be free to say what they believe without fear of government punishment,” said ADF Legal Counsel Rachel Csutoros. “Christie, owner of Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore, gladly serves everyone, but she can’t speak messages that go against her religious beliefs. Yet Jacksonville is illegally mandating Queen of Angels abandon its religious beliefs—the very faith that motivates the store to open its doors to customers every day.”

ADF Senior Counsel Hal Frampton added,

“Christie established Queen of Angels bookstore to serve the Jacksonville community and to share her Catholic beliefs, but city officials threaten her with unlimited fines if she does so. This case is the latest example of government officials across the country using radical ideology to cancel those who disagree. Punishing someone because of their views not only runs afoul of the First Amendment, but it also has devastating consequences for free speech, working professionals, women, and children.”

In Genesis 1:27, the Bible says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

It is a clear teaching of Scripture that God created mankind and created two distinct sexes. It would be hard to imagine governments requiring a business owner to greet an evolutionary biologist who enters the business with: “Hello my fellow highly evolved primate.”

While the belief that God created man is ridiculed by much of our country, it is the belief of Christians and few would claim that it should be considered discrimination not to affirm an evolutionary biologist’s view of the origins of humanity. It is no more right to demand that a Christian affirm that there are multiple sexes and that a person can change their sex than it would be to demand that they deny God created the human race.

A businessowner who won’t pretend a person is their preferred gender isn’t discriminating against that person. They are saying that they won’t lie to them based on what they believe to be the truth. This type of free exercise of religious beliefs must be protected or no one will ever be allowed to have an unapproved belief or even thought.

Thankfully, there are those like Christie DeTrude who are willing to fight to protect that right.


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