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Catholic bookstore owner Christie DeTrude wants to let customers know that she will only use pronouns that reflect biological sex, citing her religious beliefs, but she’s afraid that doing so will run afoul of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance.

She filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging the Florida city’s updated anti-discrimination measure, saying the ban on communication that could make someone feel “unwelcome” based on gender identity violates her constitutional rights.

“Free speech is for everyone. Americans should be free to say what they believe without fear of government punishment,” said Rachel Csutoros, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Ms. DeTrude.

“Christie, owner of Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore, gladly serves everyone, but she can’t speak messages that go against her religious beliefs,” Ms. Csutoros said. “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.”

The lawsuit comes as the latest challenge to state and local laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity brought by religious business owners, including Colorado website designer Lorie Smith, whose case is before the Supreme Court.

Like Ms. Smith, Ms. DeTrude hasn’t been accused of violating any laws, but claims the ordinance has violated her First Amendment rights by effectively censoring her and restricting her free exercise of religion.

Her concern is that she could be subject to hefty fines if she places notices in her bookstore and on her website explaining her policy and how it reflects her religiously based beliefs about gender and sexuality.

The ordinance forbids public accommodations, including businesses, from publishing or posting notices “to the effect that accommodations, services, goods advantages, facilities are denied to a person or that the patronage of such person is unwelcome, objectionable, or unacceptable.”

The lawsuit noted that “proponents of preferred pronouns and titles often claim that declining to use them is tantamount to denying a person’s existence.”

As a result, “posting or distributing the pronoun blog would possibly make someone feel unwelcome, objectionable, or acceptable.”

“Queen of Angels therefore cannot on its website or in its store post or explain its pronoun policy without substantial risk of violating the Denial and Unwelcome clauses,” said the 52-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division.

Jacksonville spokesperson Craig Feiser said the city cannot comment on active litigation.

The ordinance includes an exemption for a “religious organization,” but defines such organizations as “churches, synagogues, mosques, and schools of religious instruction and non-profit institutions or organizations affiliated therewith, as well as any “religious corporation, association or society.”

Queen of Angels is a for-profit business. Ms. DeTrude, who bought the store in 2017, is the only full-time worker and employs about seven part-time staffers.

The Jacksonville city council added sexual orientation and gender identity to the law in 2017, but the amended ordinance was struck down by a state court because the complete language was missing at the time of the vote. The city council voted 15-4 to approve the revised measure in June 2020.

Hal Frampton, ADF senior counsel, called the case “the latest example of government officials across the country using radical ideology to cancel those who disagree.” 

“Punishing someone because of their views not only runs afoul of the First Amendment, but it also has devastating consequences for free speech, working professionals, women, and children,” he said.

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