Catholic Bookstore Owner Hopes Recent Supreme Court Ruling Will Aid Her Challenge

Doesn’t Want to Use Gender-Identity Pronouns, Thinks Website-Designer Decision May Help

Prayer cards, statues, and even prayer requests offered at Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore in Jacksonville, Florida.
Prayer cards, statues, and even prayer requests offered at Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore in Jacksonville, Florida. (photo: Alliance Defending Freedom)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Catholic bookstore owner in Florida who wants to avoid using pronouns that don’t correspond with a person’s sex may have gotten a boost from a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the unrelated 303 Creative v. Elenis case, some legal observers say.

Christie DeTrude, owner of Queen of Angels Catholic Store in Jacksonville, says she wants to issue a policy requiring that staff members “only use pronouns and titles that align with the biologically originating sex of the person being referenced,” citing the Catholic teaching that God created human beings male and female as an essential part of his plan for creation.

“Should someone interacting with the bookstore request a pronoun or form of address that would violate our policy, employees should respectfully and charitably decline, and instead use a form of address that does not contradict someone’s biologically originating sex, such as the person’s first or last name,” the owner’s draft policy says.

But the store hasn’t published the policy because DeTrude is worried that the city of Jacksonville would then take action against the store for violating the city’s Human Rights Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity, according to court papers in a lawsuit the store filed in February.

The bookstore case is pending in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state of Colorado can’t require a Christian website designer named Lorie Smith who wants to make websites only for one-man-one-woman weddings to also make websites for same-sex weddings, which she rejects as incompatible with God’s will.

The court ruled that while the website designer’s business is a public accommodation as defined by the state’s antidiscrimination statute, her right to free speech supersedes the interest of the government in combating discrimination.

“The First Amendment’s protections belong to all, not just to speakers whose motives the government finds worthy,” the court said in a 6-3 decision in the website-designer case, 303 Creative v. Elenis. “In this case, Colorado seeks to force an individual to speak in ways that align with its views but defy her conscience about a matter of major significance.”


Helpful Precedent?

A lawyer representing Queen of Angels said the Christian-website-designer decision is a good sign for the Catholic bookstore.

“Lorie Smith’s win at the Supreme Court was a win for every American’s free-speech rights. The Court affirmed that the government cannot coerce anyone to speak a message that violates their core beliefs,” said Hal Frampton, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a public interest law firm that is representing the bookstore, by email through a spokesman. “We are hopeful that this win will continue to impact other cases, like Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore v. Jacksonville, where we are seeing laws that restrict free speech and impose their own ideology on individuals who don’t agree. Like Lorie, Christie DeTrude, owner of the bookstore, should not have to wait for the government to punish her to fight these unjust laws.”

Items for sale inside Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore in Jacksonville, Florida. adf
Items for sale inside Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore in Jacksonville, Florida.

Asked for a response, Laura Boeckman, assistant general counsel for the city of Jacksonville, told the Register by email: “The City has no comment.”

A legal scholar who agrees with the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 30 decision in the Christian-web-designer case told the Register he thinks it could be a helpful precedent for the Catholic bookstore because the court defines free speech not only as saying what you want to say but also as not saying what you don’t want to say.

“I do think that the recent website decision is applicable here. It’s one thing for government to say that they have to serve everyone. But here, it’s a direct regulation of speech — what you have to say,” said Dwight Duncan, a professor of law at the University of Massachusetts School of Law, in a telephone interview. “… People have a First Amendment right to remain silent. They don’t have to mouth the orthodoxy.”

A lawyer who filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the state of Colorado in the Christian-website case told the Register he doesn’t think that decision will affect the Catholic-bookstore case.

“Both cases involve business owners who seek to undercut antidiscrimination protections. That is where the similarities end,” said Patrick Elliott, senior counsel for Freedom From Religion Foundation, by email. “The Queen of Angels case seems to be factually different and entirely manufactured. Federal courts are unlikely to find that they have the ability to issue a decision when the claims are entirely speculative.”


Pronoun Policies Elsewhere

Lawyers for the city of Jacksonville have argued that Queen of Angels has no actual legal problem with the city’s gender-identity protections because no one has brought a complaint against the store during the several years the ordinance has been in effect. In court papers, the city’s lawyers have described the bookstore’s lawsuit as “speculative.”

Lawyers for Queen of Angels say the threat isn’t far-fetched, citing other jurisdictions that have gender-identity protections enshrined in law.

Guidance from the New York City Commission on Human Rights, for instance, says that all customers and employees “have the right to use and have others use their name and pronouns” that they choose and that refusing to use such names and pronouns violates the city’s Human Rights Law and leaves violators liable for civil penalties of up to $250,000.

Exterior shot of Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore in Jacksonville, Florida. ADF
Exterior shot of Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore in Jacksonville, Florida.

The New York State Division of Human Rights in January 2020 issued a document called “Guidance on Protections From Gender Identity Discrimination Under the New York State Human Rights Law.” It says it is “not a defense” against a discrimination complaint “that a discriminatory action was taken because of the personal religious beliefs of an employer, place of public accommodation, housing provider, or other covered entity.”

One of the examples of illegal discrimination provided by the document describes a man who identifies as a woman who goes to a doctor:

“A transgender woman, Anna Jones, has a medical appointment. She told the receptionist she uses the title ‘Ms.’ and filled out her intake paperwork accordingly. When it is time for her to see the doctor, the nurse calls out for ‘Mr. Jones.’”

The Queen of Angels lawyers also cite state pronoun policies in California, Colorado, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey and Iowa.


Religious Exemption?

The Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance provides an exception for religious organizations, including religious corporations, “With regard to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

But the judge in the bookstore case, Timothy Corrigan, has not yet determined whether Queen of Angels qualifies as a “religious corporation” under the ordinance, and in June he issued an order requiring lawyers for Queen of Angels to file an amended complaint and a subsequent motion for summary judgment addressing whether the store qualifies for a religious exemption from the gender-identity portion of the local law.

According to the Queen of Angels amended complaint filed Friday, July 7, the bookstore opened in 2003 and was bought by its current owner in 2017.

Lawyers for Queen of Angels describe it as a for-profit corporation but also a sort of Catholic missionary endeavor. Most of the staff attend Mass in the morning before work; staff members stop at noon to say the Angelus together and at 3pm to say the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together; a glass bowl at the front of the store takes prayer requests from visitors.

Staff members frequently answer questions about the Catholic faith, including from customers who want to argue about it, court papers say.

“Queen of Angels views these interactions as important opportunities to defend the Catholic faith, demonstrate the love of Christ to people regardless of their attitude toward Catholicism, and dispel misconceptions about Catholic theology,” the amended complaint states.

The judge plans to issue a ruling in the case later this year.

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