Court upholds Alaska shelter’s sex-based admission policy
Anchorage ministry to women doesn’t have to take in men
A federal court in Alaska protected a faith-based women’s shelter from having to give men beds alongside women who have suffered physical and sexual abuse.
In a Christmas week ruling, U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason concluded Downtown Hope Center is not a place of “public accommodation” subject to an Anchorage nondiscrimination ordinance. The rule threatened the shelter with fines and penalties for following its religious beliefs by serving only women—and not men who identify as women—in need.
In the June 2021 lawsuit, Hope Center attorneys asked the court to preemptively block the city’s enforcement of the newly revised ordinance, which they feared would be used against the shelter. In May, the city council had removed an exemption for homeless shelters.
The city argued the law did not apply to the shelter and would not be enforced against it. The judge agreed. “Hope Center’s shelter services are not ‘available to the public’ in the manner characteristic of public accommodations,” Gleason wrote. “‘Individual members of the general public’ cannot avail themselves of Hope Center’s services because shelter guests must satisfy an extensive list of criteria to qualify for admission—a list that would exclude the vast majority of the general public.”
Hope Center did not obtain a court order blocking enforcement of the ordinance, but its attorneys say the ruling still vindicated the shelter. The city previously attempted to enforce an earlier version of the law against the shelter. After Hope Center declined to admit an inebriated man who identified as a woman, he filed a complaint with the Alaska Equal Rights Commission. The city of Anchorage pursued the complaint, dropping it only after Hope Center attorneys filed a lawsuit in 2018.
“Vulnerable women deserve a safe place to stay overnight, and we’re pleased that they can sleep soundly, at least for the time being, due to the court’s order,” said Alliance Defending Freedom’s Kate Anderson, who represented the shelter.
It’s not the only threat faith-based shelters face. Such groups remain concerned about the Biden administration’s withdrawal in April 2021 of a proposed rule that would have allowed shelters that receive federal funds to segregate residents by biological sex. Biden reverted to an Obama-era rule that requires federally funded shelters to provide access according to a person’s gender identity. That means men who identify as women could use women’s housing, restrooms, and shower facilities.
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