Catholic bookstore preemptively sues city over LGBT ordinance
A rule in Jacksonville, Fla., vaguely bans making customers feel “unwelcome”
Queen of Angels Catholic bookstore preemptively sued the city of Jacksonville, Fla., last week over an ordinance that the bookstore owner fears could force it to affirm transgenderism in violation of the religious beliefs of employees.
The city’s 2020 ordinance bans businesses from making any patron feel “unwelcome, objectionable, or unacceptable” because of his or her gender identity.
According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday, Queen of Angels maintains that using pronouns which do not align with one’s sex at birth would cause it to violate “the Divine commandment not to bear false witness.” Queen of Angels owner Christie DeTrude worries that under the new law her store could be subject to government fines and enforcement actions because of the religious beliefs on which she runs her business. Rather than wait for the city to take action, she made the first move, suing for the measure’s removal before she or any other religious business could suffer under it.
Queen of Angels opened in 2003 and markets Catholic books and a wide array of Catholic-inspired artwork, apparel, and jewelry. From its location in a strip shopping center, it also sells liturgical items, including garments for priests, altar linens, processional crucifixes, rosaries, and other religious items. Employees pause twice a day to recite Catholic prayers corporately.
Rachel Csutoros, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom who represents DeTrude in her lawsuit, pointed to the threat the Jacksonville ordinance poses to business owners. Not only does it broadly prohibit actions that would make a patron feel “unwelcome,” but it also precludes any such written or spoken communications by a business. That means the ordinance applies to Queen of Angels’ website and blog on the Catholic faith.
Csutoros explains that other jurisdictions that have enacted similar clauses include use of preferred pronouns as protected under the law. In 2020, the New York Division of Human Rights issued a memo clarifying that refusing to use someone’s preferred name or pronouns could be considered discrimination under state law. Like Jacksonville’s ordinance, the law applied to all places of public accommodation.
“We have no reason to believe that Jacksonville wouldn’t also force this on Queen of Angels and force them to use pronouns they don’t agree with and that do not align with biological sex,” Csutoros said. “Queen of Angels didn’t want to leave this to chance and wanted to challenge this law before it was enforced against them.”
Csutoros hopes courts will strike down the law for violating the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. The lawsuit also asserts that the vague terminology within the “unwelcome clause” violates the right to due process under the 14th Amendment.
“The unwelcome clause does not define what it means to be unwelcome, objectionable, or unacceptable,” Csutoros explains. “If [DeTrude] uses pronouns that align with someone’s biological sex instead of gender identity, that could be seen as ‘unwelcome.’ We’re not sure how Jacksonville will define that, which really puts her in the crosshairs of the law if someone decides to feel ‘unwelcome’ by something.”
When it filed its lawsuit, the bookstore also filed a motion to block the city’s enforcement of the ordinance. A hearing on the motion has not yet been scheduled.