Thanks to a federal court order, the Anchorage Assembly cannot require a faith-based women’s shelter to admit biological males who claim to be female. The order upholds the shelter’s right to prevent men from sleeping in close quarters with women who have suffered physical and sexual abuse.
The U.S. District Court for Alaska ruled on Dec. 20 that Downtown Hope Center is not a “public accommodation” and therefore is not subject to a recent city ordinance aimed at threatening the shelter with fines and penalties for following its religious beliefs and serving biological women in desperate need.
“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,” said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Kate Anderson, who helped represent the shelter.
Alliance Defending Freedom is a national non-profit that defends religious freedom, free speech, parental rights and the sanctity of life. They have affiliate lawyers in all 50 states, including Alaska. The organization stepped in to help the Downtown Hope Center, which has provided services to Anchorage’s homeless population for over three decades. Funded primarily by individual donors and churches, the Christian mission gives its guests valuable experiences and marketable job skills. It also runs a bakery, a cold weather shelter that houses 50 women a night, a soup kitchen, a culinary school and a vocational training programs for homeless and formerly incarcerated individuals.
“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,” ADF Senior Counsel Kate Anderson said. “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.”
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Downtown Hope Center initially filed a federal lawsuit against the city in 2018 after the shelter referred an inebriated and injured biological male to a hospital to receive care. The shelter even paid for his taxi.
The man, who claimed to be a woman, showed up at the shelter wearing a pink women’s night gown. He later filed a complaint with the city’s Equal Rights Commission, claiming that the women’s shelter refused to let him spend the night. The city, then under Mayor Ethan Berkowitz leadership, opted to pursue the complaint against the Hope Center. This spurred the Hope Center lawsuit. The city ultimately dropped its complaint and was forced to pay the shelter $100,000 for legal fees.
After that initial loss in federal court, the Anchorage Assembly amended the city ordinance this past summer in an attempt to find new ways to force the Hope Center into letting gender confused males sleep next to women who have been abused. That attempt was struck down by the recent court ruling.
“Faith-based nonprofits should be free to serve consistently with their faith without fear of unjust government punishment. This is especially true for ministries that help homeless women who have suffered sexual abuse or domestic violence,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of ADF’s Center for Christian Ministries. “Because no woman should be forced to sleep or disrobe next to a man, we are pleased the court has allowed Downtown Hope Center to continue protecting women and operating according to its religious beliefs.”