Should faith-based non-profits be free to serve consistently with their faith? That is the question in a federal case in Alaska.
The Downtown Hope Center has been serving Anchorage for more than 30 years. It started out as a soup kitchen and has expanded to not only serve about 150,000 meals each year to the homeless in Anchorage, but also provide job training skills, free clothing, laundry facilities, and showering. It even provides overnight accommodations for homeless women, many of whom have been battered or sexually abused by men.
"The City of Anchorage is now investigating Hope Center because one night a man came to the door and wanted to stay in an overnight shared sleeping facility," says attorney Denise Harle of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the organization representing Downtown Hope Center.
"He was visibly drunk, he was injured – he had been in a fight – and the director of Hope Center paid for him to get a taxi to the hospital, but did not allow him to stay in the facility with the women," the attorney continues. "And now Anchorage is going after the Hope Center saying that they have discriminated based on sex and gender identity because this particular biological man identifies as a woman."
ADF attorneys argue that Downtown Hope Center didn't deny the individual on that basis. "Regardless, the ordinance specifically exempts homeless shelters," the legal group states on its website. "ADF attorneys asked the federal district court in Alaska to stop Anchorage officials from misapplying a city ordinance against the ministry."
Harle shares that the hope is that the court "will very quickly see that Anchorage is trying to infringe on the Hope Center's religious beliefs – and that is that God made individuals men and women, that a charity is free to protect vulnerable women, and that there is no legal violation in doing that."
Because this is a federal case, the attorney explains, a decision in this matter would impact people beyond Alaska.
"The specific question here is whether the Hope Center has violated an ordinance, or really whether the ordinance is unconstitutional in forcing vulnerable, homeless women to sleep and undress alongside men," Harle continues. "The bigger question is whether faith-based non-profits are free to serve consistently with their faith, whatever that might be."
Read a summary of the case