Federal Judge Rules Anchorage Cannot Force Faith-Based Women’s Shelter to Admit Males

Credit: Alliance Defending Freedom

On Monday, December 20, a federal judge ruled that the city of Anchorage, Alaska may not force a faith-based women’s shelter to admit males to sleep in the same facilities as women who are fleeing physical and sexual abuse.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska sided with Downtown Hope Center, which it determined is not a place of “public accommodation” and therefore cannot be forced to comply with a city ordinance which would have forced them to violate their desire to operate a refuge for women and their religious convictions.

“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 Senior Counsel Kate Anderson, who represented the shelter.

“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 said.

In 2018, a man filed a complaint with the city’s Equal Rights Commission after he sought shelter at the Downtown Hope Center while injured and inebriated. The shelter paid for a taxi to take the man to the hospital.

Beds at the shelter are in close proximity to one another, and the center did not want to let men sleep so closely next to homeless women, many of whom had suffered physical and sexual abuse.

When Anchorage sought to pursue the man’s complaint against the center, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit on their behalf in turn.

“The city eventually dropped the complaint, and both the city and the center agreed to make the court’s temporary order against the city permanent,” the ADF explains on their website. “But since the city’s first loss in federal court, the Anchorage Assembly amended the city ordinance in an attempt to find a way around the court’s ruling, once again targeting Downtown Hope Center and trying to force it to let males sleep next to homeless women.”

“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.”

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