Seattle Homeless Ministry Asks Supreme Court to Protect Religious Freedom

Seattle Homeless Ministry Asks Supreme Court to Protect Religious Freedom

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission filed a petition Aug. 2 asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Washington Supreme Court decision that forces the Christian nonprofit to hire employees who do not share the ministry’s religious beliefs.

“Unless this court intervenes, anyone will be able to demand a job while contradicting a religious organization’s core beliefs, and faith-based nonprofits will lose their autonomy to freely associate without state interference,” the petition explains. 

In the city that has the U.S.’ third-largest homeless population, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission serves over a thousand homeless people every day through its soup kitchen, mobile showers and recovery programs.

In 2017, Attorney Matt Woods sued Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission after the nonprofit declined to hire him for its legal-aid clinic. According to religious liberty law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing the mission, the position required talking with clients about Jesus Christ and attending worship services and prayer meetings in addition to providing legal advice.

Yet Woods openly shared that he was in a same-sex relationship, didn’t attend church and disagreed with the ministry’s Biblical beliefs. He even admitted that he applied for the position hoping he could influence the mission to abandon its beliefs.

For those reasons, the mission hired another candidate.

A Washington state trial court dismissed Woods’ lawsuit, recognizing that the mission was exempt from the state’s anti-discrimination law as a religious employer. But in March, the Washington Supreme Court overrode the exemption and held that the mission has no First Amendment right to only hire people who share its Christian beliefs.

Now, the mission is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to protect religious nonprofits’ constitutional right to make employment decisions based on their deeply held beliefs.

“Churches and religious organizations have the First Amendment right to hire those who share their beliefs without being punished by the government,” said John Bursch, ADF senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy. “Courts have consistently recognized that a religious organization’s purpose will be undermined if the government forces it to hire those who do not subscribe to the group’s beliefs.”

Above: A Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission worker serves a meal to a person in need at the mission’s facility in Seattle, Washington.

Photo: Seattle's Union Gospel Mission

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