Seattle Pacific University (SPU), associated with the Free Methodist Church, has filed a lawsuit against the attorney general of Washington over what it alleges is interference with its religious practices.
The Christian Post reported that the school said it holds the traditional Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality and seeks to hire people who also hold these traditional beliefs.
SPU, which used to be Seattle Pacific Seminary, has a policy in place called Employee Lifestyle Expectations. Among the expectations are that employees refrain from sexual behavior that is inconsistent with the school’s understanding of biblical standards. These include fornication, adultery, and homosexual activity. The school issued an FAQ about the policy.
“For over 130 years, our university has been guided by our Christian mission and purpose, and we’re asking to continue that tradition,” Interim President Pete Menjares said. “The faith commitment of our faculty and staff is an essential foundation to our identity as a Christian university.”
Attorney General Bob Ferguson has opened an investigation into SPU based on accusations that the school has refused to hire homosexuals. His office sent a letter (PDF) to the school dated June 8, requesting hiring, promoting, discipline, and/or termination policies of faculty, staff, and administrators “as it relates to their sexual orientation or status of being in a same-sex marriage and/or intimate relationship.”
The attorney general’s office also asked the school to provide detailed information about its policies and prospective, current, or former employees affected by the policies. The office seeks complaints received by any of these people alleging that they weren’t hired or promoted, or were disciplined or fired based on the policies.
The SPU contended in its lawsuit (PDF) against the state’s attorney general’s office that it expects “staff and leadership to agree with the University’s statement of faith and to live out that faith as a model for others, including by living according to the University’s religious teachings on marriage. Seattle Pacific relies on its faculty, staff, and leadership to provide a Christian higher education by integrating faith and learning.”
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 free from government interference…Defendant does not recognize that right. Despite the Constitution’s clear prohibition on interference in matters of church governance, including entangling investigations of religious employment decisions and the selection of ministers, Washington’s attorney general has launched a probe that does just that…The attorney general has taken the position that policies like Seattle Pacific’s, which ask leaders to follow a religious organization’s teachings, are unlawful and unwelcome in Washington.
SPU has an FAQ about the lawsuit.
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