After city declines to prosecute, judge dismisses faith-based shelter’s challenge to Anchorage’s LGBTQ anti-discrimination law

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Anchorage’s anti-discrimination law but will allow the faith-based women’s shelter that challenged the law to seek financial damages from the city.

The Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center does not admit transgender women and cited its religious beliefs in the lawsuit, which accused the municipality of violating the First Amendment’s protections for free exercise of religion.

In August, the municipality said it does not consider the shelter a “public accommodation” subject to the law and will not enforce the discrimination law against it.

With a Monday order, Alaska District Court Judge Sharon Gleason cited that interpretation as a reason to dismiss the Hope Center’s lawsuit but said the shelter is eligible for damages for the three-month period in which the center declined to post its rules because it feared prosecution.

Gleason wrote, “Hope Center may seek damages for its self-censorship ... for the limited time period between the ordinance’s passage and the municipality’s disavowal of prosecutorial intent.”

[Anchorage Assembly postpones vote on proposed changes to rules covering election observers]

It wasn’t immediately clear how much the Hope Center may seek to collect from the city.


Municipal attorney Ruth Botstein declined to comment on the decision. Attorneys for the Hope Center said in a written statement that it was a victory for their cause.

“Faith-based nonprofits should be free to serve consistently with their faith without fear of unjust government punishment,” said Ryan Tucker, senior counsel for the group representing Hope Center.

Identity Alaska, a group representing LGBT causes in Alaska, said the municipality’s decision to not prosecute and this week’s court order may dilute the effect of Anchorage’s anti-discrimination law.

“The decision will likely lead parties who seek to exclude persons in protected classes to argue that they are not a ‘public accommodation’ to evade enforcement,” the group said in a written statement.

The group linked the municipality’s decisions to the election of Mayor Dave Bronson.

The lawsuit dismissed this week was the second legal challenge filed by the Hope Center against the city’s efforts to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ residents.

In 2018, it sued the city after a complaint alleged that the shelter’s rules discriminated against transgender women. Gleason also heard that case and issued a preliminary injunction declaring that the city’s rules could not be applied to the shelter. After that decision, the shelter and city reached an out-of-court settlement that resulted in the city paying $100,001, mostly to cover the center’s legal costs.

In both cases, the shelter was represented by the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group that participates in cases nationwide.

After the city paid that settlement, the Anchorage Assembly rewrote the city’s anti-discrimination law. That revised law, approved in May, was the target of the second lawsuit.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.