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Jacksonville Shouldn’t Punish Catholic Bookstore for Abiding by Beliefs

Each individual has the right to choose what to say rather than have their words dictated by the government.
Rachel Rouleau
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Each individual has the right to choose what to say rather than have their words dictated by the government

In the age of Amazon, opening an independent bookstore is a big decision. From picking the right books to selecting the right décor, it’s all about sending the right message. At Queen of Angels Catholic Bookstore, that message is, unsurprisingly, a Catholic one. But whether it’s Queen of Angels or the secular bookstore down the street, businesses shouldn’t be punished just because the government doesn’t agree with their beliefs.

But that’s exactly what is happening in Jacksonville. Using its vague public-accommodation law, the city is requiring Queen of Angels, its owner, and its employees to speak messages that contradict their Catholic beliefs about human sexuality. Specifically, the law demands that Queen of Angels address customers using the pronouns and titles they prefer regardless of the customers’ sex or the business’ stated beliefs about sexuality.

In fact, a number of governments across the country have adopted laws like Jacksonville’s requiring businesses to use not just pronouns that contradict someone’s sex but even pronouns like “ze” and “zir.”

But that is wrong. Each individual has the right to choose what to say rather than have their words dictated by the government.

It’s especially problematic for Queen of Angels and its owner Christie DeTrude, because she uses her bookstore to promote her Catholic faith. Her employees even invite customers to participate in daily prayer and collect customer prayer requests. According to their Catholic beliefs, God created humans in his image, male or female, so referring to someone in a way that contradicts their God-given sex contradicts Christie’s core convictions. It would force her to affirm what she believes is untrue and contrary to her faith.

But it doesn’t stop there. The law even prohibits businesses from publishing “communication,” whether on their websites or in store, that someone could subjectively interpret as making someone feel “unwelcome, objectionable, or unacceptable” because of a protected trait like religion, gender identity, or national origin. But people can get offended by almost anything. That’s a blank check for the government to censor almost any speech it doesn’t like. It also means Queen of Angels can’t explain its religious beliefs about human sexuality on its blog or YouTube page for fear of offending someone.

Put it together, and Jacksonville’s law both compels Queen of Angels to speak messages it opposes and censors the store’s desired expression, all in the name of stopping discrimination.

But even that rings hollow because Queen of Angels serves everyone and sells its books, Bibles, and crucifixes to anyone, no matter who they are or how they identify. Christie and her store just cannot speak messages she opposes or stay silent when others get to speak their own views.

So, Jacksonville’s law really is about coercion and censorship — nothing else. Either mouth the government’s ideology and silence your view, or suffer. Indeed, if Queen of Angels decides to express its view or uses the pronouns its wants, it faces cease-and-desist orders, investigations, uncapped fines, unlimited damages and attorneys’ fees. In other words, the law threatens to shut Queen of Angels down.

All this strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. That is why, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, Queen of Angels has decided to challenge this unjust law. Because, regardless of whether it’s Queen of Angels or a bookstore with completely different views, free speech is for everyone.