Catholic bookstore sues city forcing businesses to use customers' preferred pronouns

The Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore of Jacksonville, Florida. | YouTube/Queen of Angels Catholic Store

A Catholic bookstore is suing a Florida city over its anti-discrimination law, which the bookstore claims will force it to use the preferred pronouns of customers.

Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore filed a lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville on Wednesday for expanding its human rights ordinance to include protections for gender identity and sexual orientation.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division, the complaint accuses city leaders of passing the ordinance to "require businesses to address customers using their preferred pronouns and titles regardless of a customer's biological sex."

"The law even prevents businesses from publishing 'any communication' a customer or government official might subjectively interpret as making someone feel 'unwelcome, objectionable, or unacceptable,' such as statements opposing gender-identity ideology," the lawsuit claimed.

Queen of Angels and its owner Christie DeTrude are represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal nonprofit that has successfully argued religious liberty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. 

ADF contends that DeTrude upholds "Catholic beliefs about gender and sexuality in her store and on the store's website" but is forbidden from doing so under Jacksonville's ordinance. Violations of the ordinance would leave DeTrude liable to pay fines and damages. 

ADF Legal Counsel Rachel Csutoros said in a statement Wednesday that "Americans should be free to say what they believe without fear of government punishment."

"Christie, owner of Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore, gladly serves everyone, but she can't speak messages that go against her religious beliefs," stated Csutoros.

"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."

In 2017, Jacksonville City Council voted to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its human rights ordinance, exempting businesses with fewer than 15 employees and religious groups.

An appeals court panel struck down the amended ordinance, which concluded that the measure had not been adequately written out when it was initially passed.

"Instead of setting out the full text of the amendments in context, the proposed ordinance stated that the City's office of general counsel would write the amended ordinance later," read the 2020 ruling, as quoted by News 4 Jax.

"The only way to ensure clear, accurate, understandable, and uniform notice of proposed changes to a law or an ordinance is to put them in writing before enacting or adopting them — in full text, in context, complete as if for immediate enforcement. Without all of that, an amendment is just an idea. Ideas alone are not enforceable."

Jacksonville Councilman Aaron Bowman introduced a revised version of the measure. The council voted 15-4 to approve it in June 2020, with dissenting votes coming from Al Ferraro, Randy White, Sam Newby and Danny Becton.  

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