Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys have filed a federal lawsuit against Washington state officials in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington on behalf of Yakima Union Gospel Mission, a Christian nonprofit organization based in Yakima, Washington. The Mission is seeking to protect its constitutional right to hire employees who share its religious beliefs.
Yakima Union Gospel Mission serves the Yakima community through its homeless shelter, addiction-recovery programs, outreach efforts, meal services, and health clinics.
While the Mission is committed to serving all individuals in need, it maintains that its religious purpose is furthered by having a staff of like-minded believers who share and live out Christian tenets and practices. This includes adhering to the biblical teaching that sexual conduct should be confined to marriage between a man and a woman.
In March 2021, the Washington Supreme Court declared that the religious employer exemption of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), which previously allowed these organizations to hire individuals who shared and lived out their religious beliefs, only applied to “ministerial employees.” This meant that for all other positions within the organization, religious nonprofits would be compelled to hire individuals who not only disagreed with their religious beliefs but also did not practice or adhere to them.
The ruling created a conflict for Yakima Union Gospel Mission, which was now obligated under the law to hire individuals who did not share its Christian beliefs or face potential punishment by the state.
The lawsuit, Union Gospel Mission of Yakima v. Ferguson, states that although the Mission serves everyone equally, it furthers its religious purpose by hiring “likeminded believers who agree with and live out the Mission’s Christian beliefs and practices.”
Mission employees must adhere to certain Christian belief and behavior requirements, including “abstaining from any sexual conduct outside of biblical marriage between one man and one woman,” the lawsuit states.
ADF attorneys argue that the recent enforcement of WLAD (Washington State Law Against Discrimination) against religious organizations is already harming the Mission.
The Mission routinely receives applications from people who openly disagree with, or are hostile to, the Mission’s religious beliefs on biblical marriage and sexuality.
To avert WLAD liability, ADF contends that the Mission recently “stopped posting job openings through Indeed.com and has removed postings and paused hiring for its IT technician and operations assistant openings—positions that would not be protected by the “ministerial exception.”
Further, ADF lawyers contend that the State of Washington has forced the Mission to “self-censor by not allowing it to publish a statement about its online Christian behavior requirements for employees.”
ADF attorneys have requested “declaratory and injunctive relief protecting its federal constitutional rights to hire coreligionists and to govern its internal affairs free from government interference.”
ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries, says that the First Amendment grants religious organizations the freedom to hire employees who share and live out their beliefs without facing government punishment. “Yakima Union Gospel Mission now faces substantial penalties under Washington state law for simply engaging in its constitutionally protected freedom to hire fellow believers who share the mission’s calling to spread the gospel and care for vulnerable people in the Yakima community,” says Tucker.
Legal Counsel Jake Reed from ADF points out that courts have consistently recognized that forcing a religious organization to hire individuals who do not subscribe to its beliefs undermines the organization’s purpose. “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 likeminded people of faith,” he says.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, nonprofit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life.
In an increasingly hostile environment towards Christian ministries, Alliance Defending Freedom Church Alliance and Alliance Defending Freedom Ministry Alliance are alliances led by Alliance Defending Freedom, dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of churches and Christian ministries, ensuring they can continue to carry out their missions without undue interference or discrimination.
Both ADF Church Alliance and ADF Ministry Alliance understand the challenges Christian ministries face in an environment that often opposes their biblical teachings and values. They are committed to defending these ministries against legal attacks, discriminatory practices, and regulatory burdens that seek to undermine their ability to live out and share their faith.