Washington state attorney general violates religious freedoms of a Christian college in Seattle by seeking to force it to hire people who disagree with the school’s statement on scripture and sexuality, the university alleges in a new federal lawsuit.
This is a June 8 letter from Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office to Seattle Pacific University, asking it to address complaints that its “employment policies and practices” may violate state law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The letter requested documents from the university and said the attorney general’s office was investigating.
Seattle University of the Pacific is aligned with the Free Methodist Church and “holds to traditional Christian beliefs regarding marriage and sexuality,” according to the lawsuit. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Ellis, Li and McKinstry represent the university.
Free Methodists affirm the biblical definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman, the lawsuit says.
“The Attorney General is exercising state power to interfere with the religious beliefs of a religious college and church, whose beliefs he disagrees with,” the lawsuit says. “He uses the powers of his office (and even powers not granted to his office) to lobby and retaliate against Seattle University of the Pacific.”
Citing a recent Supreme Court opinion, the lawsuit asserts that “governmental attempts to probe the spirit of a religious institution are a blatant form of entanglement prohibited by both religious clauses of the First Amendment.”
The lawsuit references the 2020 Supreme Court decision in Our Lady of Guadalupe Sch. against Morrissey Berruin which the judges ruled that “[s]state interference…obviously violates[s] the free exercise of religion” and such an “attempt[s] by [the] government to dictate or even influence [religious] questions … constitute one of the central attributes of a religious establishment. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that two Catholic schools could hire and fire employees without being governed by anti-discrimination laws.
“The U.S. Constitution recognizes and protects the right of Seattle Pacific University to decide matters of faith and doctrine, to hire employees who share its religious beliefs, and to select and retain ministers without government interference” , says the lawsuit.
The university, in a statement, said it requires its faculty and staff to be Christian, “to affirm the university’s statement of faith and conform to its lifestyle expectations,” which together “shape the vision and mission of the institution as a free University affiliated with the Methodist Church.
“In the spirit of SPU’s mission, the University welcomes students of all faiths,” the university’s statement read.
“For more than 130 years, our university has been guided by our Christian mission and purpose, and we ask that we continue that tradition,” said Pete Menjares, acting president of the university. “The religious commitment of our faculty and staff is an essential foundation of our identity as a Christian university.”
The trial is Seattle Pacific vs. Ferguson.
Supreme Court awards major victory to Christian schools in jobs case
Photo credit: Delia Giandeini/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and current affairs for 20 years. His stories have appeared in the Baptist Press, Christianity today, The Christian Post, the Sheet-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.