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Christian Homeless Shelter Sues For Discrimination Over State Hiring Policy

by | Tue, Mar 21 2023

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A Christian homeless shelter has sued the US state of Washington after it refused to allow it to exclusively hire Christian staff.

The Yakima Union Gospel Mission aims to serve anyone with its Christian-based services which include accommodation, food and health clinics, but seeks to only employ staff who share and live out its religious beliefs.

Specifically, the organisation hires only those who support its biblical mission of “spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ through its homeless shelter, addiction-recovery programs, outreach efforts, meal services, and health clinics for the Yakima community.”

State officials have allegedly threatened the Gospel Mission with significant penalties if it continues its religiously based hiring practices, breaking the state law.

The shelter’s lawsuit objects to the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) which prohibits employment discrimination on the grounds of marriage, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The complaint notes that “The WLAD used to protect the Mission by exempting religious nonprofit organisations from its provisions, but the Washington Supreme Court recently gutted the religious employer exemption, reducing it to a ‘ministerial exception.'”

The Gospel Mission’s lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) argue that the Washington Supreme Court “re-interpreted state law to prohibit religious organisations from only hiring individuals who share its religious beliefs.”

They note that US Supreme Court justices have previously indicated that the decision may warrant the nation’s highest court to review the Washington decision because it may conflict with the US constitution.

In 2021, the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission after the Washington Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling in its favour that allowed it to refuse to hire an applicant in a same sex relationship.

ADF Legal Counsel Jake Reed said in a statement: “The Yakima Union Gospel Mission is doing important ministry outreach in Washington state and we urge the court to uphold its freedom to carry out its calling through its staff of like-minded people of faith.”

ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker added that “the First Amendment allows religious organisations the freedom to hire those who share and live out their beliefs without being punished by the government.”

Last November, ADF helped secure a legal settlement in favour of a Wyoming Christian shelter so that it could continue to hire only Christians who share its religious beliefs.