Oregon Church Is Sued Because of ‘Moral Clause’ Damage

A Catholic parish in Portland, Oregon, is being sued by an event center because the church’s moral clause forced the event company to turn away an LGBTQ client.

Ambridge Event Center, which had a contract with Holy Rosary parish to operate the church’s event space, is suing the parish, claiming that their reputation was damaged and they lost business because the church would not allow them to rent to the local chapter of PFLAG, an organization for parents of LGBT people.

The Oregonian reported:

“In February 2015, the Ambridge Event Center followed the church’s orders by telling an African American LGBTQ support group, the PFLAG Portland Black Chapter, that it couldn’t rent out the space for the group’s annual party, according to the suit and media coverage at the time.

“After a spate of bad press, Ambridge Event Center claims that government agencies and businesses not associated with the LGBTQ community wanted nothing to do with the event center, the suit says.”

Following this decline in its reputation, Ambridge Event Center tried to repair its image, according to the news article:

” [T]he event center apologized to the PFLAG Portland Black Chapter days later and offered to hold the party for free. According to the lawsuit, the event center also tried to restore its reputation in other ways, ‘going so far as to hire an events coordinator, Mr. Gary Sorrels, who is openly gay.’

“Within a few weeks, Holy Rosary Church sent the event center a notice to vacate, the suit claims.”

The Miami Herald reported some of the details of the “morals clause” the church required:

“The morals clause in the contract, a copy of which was provided in the suit, forbade the renter from using the space for anything ‘offensive or disreputable’ to the church. In particular, the plaintiff says the church ‘was explicit in prohibiting Ambridge from renting out the Event Center to members of or groups affiliated with the LGBTQ community,’ reported Courthouse News.”

The Oregonian reported that Oregon law allows for a religious exemption for churches to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation:

“. . . [A] church can discriminate based on sexual orientation by disallowing a group to use its facilities if ‘the use of facilities is closely connected with or related to the primary purposes of the church … and is not connected with a commercial or business activity that has no necessary relationship to the church or institution.’ “

It will be up to the court to edcide if that law applies in this case.  However, the whole mess could have been avoided if the parish would have relied on its own Catholic principles of non-discrimination and allowed PFLAG to rent the space for their event. There is nothing “offensive or disreputable” to a Catholic parish in supporting parents and families of LGBT people.  Indeed, allowing PFLAG to rent the space would have been a wonderful example of bridge-building.

Recently on Bondings 2.0,  Cristina Traina wrote about the need to avoid litigation in religious liberty incidents.  Although this suit is not a religious liberty case per se, litigation could have been avoided if the parish would simply have lived up to our Church’s call for reconciliation with the LGBT community.

Francis DeBernardo and Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, July 3, 2018



4 replies
  1. Richard Boyle, OSM
    Richard Boyle, OSM says:

    Holy Rosary Parish is well known in the Portland area (a generally liberal and progressive city in many aspects…) to be quite “to the right of center” in all matters religious. Whereas there are (IMO) a number of parishes in the Archdiocese which would have made no fuss at all about renting to PFLAG for a simple event celebrating unity in families, Holy Rosary (administrated by the Dominican friars) would most definitely not have been one of them. St. Andrew parish, for example, entered a contingent of participants in the recent Pride parade in Portland just a couple of weeks back. There IS a choice for Catholics searching for a more “welcoming community” among parishes in Portland. While some parishes are seemingly “proud” to be conservatively rigid, there are those which are well known to be open, welcoming, diverse, and truly “catholic” communities/parishes. As a Catholic resident of Portland, I admire the courage and Gospel witness of the compassion of Jesus provided to the community at large by parish families like St. Andrew (among others!), and continue to pray and work for the day when all Catholic parishes will be beacons of hope, healing, and God’s universal, unconditional Love.

  2. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    If I read this correctly, Holy Rosary owns the actual space and Ambridge is contracted to “make the event happen”. One would think that there is some financial gain for Holy Rosary if the space is rented by anyone. Similarly, that’s how Ambridge makes money. One hand washes the other. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” So, leave it to the Church to create an unnecessary problem.

    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Oregon Church Is Sued Because of ‘Moral Clause’ Damage

    Denying PFLAG the use of a church owned facility is surely a despicable decision. However, in the case of the Ambridge Event Center, I believe the present law suit is ill advised. Ambridge is not likely to prevail in the outcome, and the entire affair will project bad press on the LGBT community.

    Regardless, the authors are correct in the assessment that, “Indeed, allowing PFLAG to rent the space would have been a wonderful example of bridge-building.” As we know, it didn’t happen that way. The law suit is not bridge building either; in fact, it may well be bridge obliterating.

  4. Kris
    Kris says:

    Legally, this appears a non-starter…for the events company, not for the parish. Contractually, the parish seems to be on far firmer ground.

    As for the Church’s ‘principles of non-discrimination’, I’m afraid it has itself well protected here, too, from a legal perspective, since the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not rule out what it calls ‘just’ discrimination against LGBT people.

    My sympathy is firmly with the events company, which is why (on prime facie evidence) I’d advise it not to proceed with a legal action that appears to have no reasonble prospect of success.


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