Catholic Bookstore Sues Florida City Over Human Rights Ordinance

A Catholic bookstore in Jacksonville, Florida, is suing the city over a “human rights” ordinance, arguing that it violates their rights.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sued the city on behalf of the Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore, claiming that the ordinance “forbids communications that could lead someone to feel ‘unwelcome’ based on various protected traits.”

The lawsuit states that Jacksonville’s ordinance infringes on the store’s free speech rights.

Christie DeTrude, the bookstore’s owner, implemented a firm pronoun policy consistent with Catholic teaching. Under it, all store employees must use pronouns that correspond with a person’s biological gender, even if the person prefers alternate pronouns.

“Should someone interacting with the bookstore request a pronoun or form of address that would violate our policy, employees should respectfully and charitably decline,” the policy states.

DeTrude and her employees worry that their policy, which follows their religious beliefs, violates Jacksonville’s ordinance that treats individuals with a preferred “gender identity” as a protected class.

While the bookstore’s employees have not violated the law, they claim it restricts their First and 14th Amendment rights. They would like to publish their store’s pronoun policy and discuss Catholic teaching regarding God’s plan for gender and creation on their social media pages but claim that the city ordinance prevents them from doing so.

“In effect, the law requires this Catholic bookstore to stop being fully Catholic,” the lawsuit states. “And if it refuses, the store faces cease-and-desist orders, expensive investigations, hearings, uncapped fines, attorney-fee awards, and unlimited damages.”

ADF Attorney Rachel Csutoros, representing DeTrude and her store in the lawsuit, told the Florida Times-Union that the law prohibits any business communication which might make someone labeled as a protected class feel “unwelcome, objectionable, or unacceptable.”

Csutoros said the ordinance will eventually become “a blank check for the government to censor almost any speech it doesn’t like.”

“Free speech is for everyone,” ADF Senior Counsel Hal Frampton told Fox News Digital. “Americans should be free to say what they believe without fear of government punishment.”

Frampton said he has not contacted Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over the issue but said he is “optimistic” that as the case receives national attention, “the courts and governments across the country will realize the attacks that are being leveled against free speech and will stand strong for the Constitution.”

In 2017, Jacksonville’s City Council added gender identity to its ordinance, exempting businesses with less than 15 employees and religious groups. The law was declared “unenforceable” and had to be revised. Upon revision, religious institutions would not be exempt from the law.