Law Firm Faces Charges for Defending Women's Homeless Shelter
An Alaska law firm has been accused of violating a city’s nondiscrimination ordinance after it provided legal representation to a Christian women’s shelter accused of violating the same ordinance.
The Anchorage Equal Rights Commission filed a formal complaint against Brena, Bell & Clarkson, charging the law firm with committing “unlawful discriminatory acts or practices” in violation of a city ordinance regarding sex and gender identity.
Its alleged crime is punishable by fines and possible jail time.
In early 2018, Kevin Clarkson was asked to represent the Downtown Hope Center, a faith-based nonprofit that provides free shelter for homeless women and abused women.
In February the shelter turned away a biological male who identifies as a female. Shelter leadership said the individual was intoxicated.
However, as a religious organization, it does not house biological men in its abused-women’s shelter because doing so would traumatize abused and battered women.
The transgender person filed a complaint against the shelter citing the policy over sexual orientation and gender identity.
It was in the context of that incident that Clarkson made comments to local news media regarding the case. And that’s why he’s now facing charges.
The law firm is being represented by First Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s top legal groups specializing in religious liberty cases.
“It’s the most outrageous case I’ve ever seen,” First Liberty’s Hiram Sasser told the “Todd Starnes Radio Show.” “Because he wrote a brief to the commission defending the shelter and portions of that brief were quoted in the media — he is accused of being in violation of their provision that prohibits you from talking about a policy.”
It raises serious questions about whether American citizens or organizations that are accused of violating sex and gender laws are eligible to receive legal assistance.
“You should be able to have legal counsel and that legal counsel should be able to represent you in court,” Sasser told me. “In Alaska they don’t see it that way.”
First Liberty said the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission is charging its client simply for representing its client.
“This has a tremendous chilling effect on any lawyer who would represent a homeless woman’s shelter,” Sasser said. “To go after the lawyer — that sends a message to all the other lawyers: Don’t take on these cases or we will come for you too. That’s extremely scary.”
Every American citizen should have their day in court. To deny someone legal representation because you don’t like his or her religious viewpoints is unthinkable.
Under the city’s ordinance it’s not out of the realm of possibility that even First Liberty Institute could face charges simply for representing the local attorney.
“We are fully prepared if they charge us,” Sasser said.
Pamela Basler, the executive director of the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, did not return calls seeking comment.