A federal district court has upheld a faith-based homeless shelter’s right to provide its overnight sleeping areas to biological women only and to express its religious views publicly as the basis for admissions decisions against admitting biological males claiming to be female.
In a somewhat convoluted decision, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska dismissed the Downtown Hope Shelter’s request for an injunction against enforcement of a recently revised Anchorage city code anti-discrimination provision that could define the facility as a “public accommodation” and thus force it to accept men and women in a shared sleeping area.
The code had been revised after Anchorage officials withdrew the original version after the shelter filed suit in 2018 in the same federal court. The city agreed to pay $100,000 in damages to the shelter when it appeared the court would rule in the facility’s favor.
Hope officials told the court they feared the Anchorage Human Rights Commission (AHRC) would seek to enforce the revised code provision in a manner that would undermine the shelter’s nightly purpose of exclusively serving homeless women who were sexually or physically abused by men.
“The legislative history of the recent revisions … fails to clarify whether the provision applies to Hope Center’s shelter. As discussed above, several Assembly members appeared to believe that the revised code—whether through its public accommodations provision or real property provision—would apply to Hope Center, whereas others did not,” the court stated in its decision.
But the court, noting that the AHRC Executive Director had said no such enforcement was planned, concluded the shelter had no reason to fear being penalized under the revised code.
“The Court is persuaded that the Executive Director’s administrative closure power mitigates Hope Center’s concerns about a ‘universe of potential complainants.’ If a member of the public were to file a complaint against Hope Center under section 5.20.020 or section 5.20.050, the Executive Director could dismiss that complaint before the investigation process commences,” the decision stated.
Ryan Tucker, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based public interest law firm that represents the shelter, told The Epoch Times that “it was only after we filed a lawsuit that the city then filed a disavowal saying in effect, ‘Oh no, just kidding, we’re not going to come after you.’
“But we had to go to court to request that, so the court is basically saying that, based on the city’s disavowal of prosecution, and also based upon the Supreme Court’s Fulton decision, I find Hope Center that you don’t need my help.”
Tucker was referring to the Supreme Court’s July decision upholding the right under the First Amendment to the Constitution of Catholic adoption agencies in Philadelphia to base decisions on religious considerations.
The court also said the shelter does have standing to seek compensation for injury that resulted from officials cautionary decision to suspend posting explanations of the role of its religious views in its operation on behalf of abused women. Tucker said discussions on such compensation haven’t been initiated with the city.
“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,” ADF senior counsel Kate Anderson said in a statement.
“Downtown Hope Center serves everyone, but its overnight women’s shelter exists to provide a safe place for women, many of whom have survived sex trafficking, rape, or domestic violence at the hands of men.
“This is the second time Anchorage officials have targeted the center for operating according to its religious beliefs and serving the city’s homeless population. We hope the court’s order puts an end to this,” she stated.