Above: Mike Johnson, CEO of the Yakima Union Gospel Mission.
The Yakima Union Gospel Mission is suing Washington state officials to protect its First Amendment right to hire staff members who share the nonprofit’s religious beliefs.
Recently, the Washington Supreme Court reinterpreted the state’s nondiscrimination law to ban religious organizations from only hiring employees with like-minded beliefs. This requires the nonprofit to hire some non- ministerial employees who don’t agree with the organization’s beliefs or face significant penalties if they don’t comply to this new hiring practice.
For over 85 years, the Yakima Union Gospel Mission has existed “to follow Christ in helping people move from homelessness to wholeness,” according to its website. The mission serves anyone needing assistance, offering homeless and family shelters along with addiction-recovery programs, thrift stores, meal services, health clinics and various outreaches to the community. In 2022 alone, the mission gave out three meals per day for a total of more than 431,000 meals to the homeless.
To further spread the Gospel, the mission’s 160 staff members all hold Christian standards and values, including that sexual relations should only exist in a marriage between a man and a woman.
“What we’re really doing at the mission is living out Christian community with each other and then inviting our homeless clients to join us in what we’re already doing in living out our faith with each other,” said CEO Mike Johnson, who wants every person who walks into the mission to encounter the love of Christ. “And therefore, even if there was someone who had minimal client contact, they have an essential role in forming and maintaining the Christian community. That really is the change engine for our clients.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys are representing the ministry in the lawsuit against the state to fight for the mission’s constitutional rights. “Courts have consistently recognized that the government will undermine a religious organization’s purpose if it forces the organization to hire those who do not subscribe to the group’s beliefs,” ADF Legal Counsel Jake Reed said. “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.”
Since the new interpretation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination, some people who openly disagree with—or are even hostile to—the organization’s beliefs on sexuality and marriage have applied to work for the mission. Because state officials are threatening the mission with penalties, the ministry has paused on hiring for two positions and removed online posts about employment opportunities.
Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom