Washington Supreme Court Ruled Against Seattle Homeless Ministry Over Christian Beliefs
Far too often, faith-based ministries must defend their fundamental rights in court rather than focusing on serving those in need.
That’s what happened to Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.
Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is a nonprofit ministry that began during the Great Depression in 1932. Today, the Mission lives out its Christian faith by bringing the love of Jesus Christ to over a thousand homeless and hurting people in Seattle each day through services like its soup kitchen, mobile showers, and recovery programs.
The Mission is spectacularly successful. About 70 percent of clients are working or in school two years after graduating from one of the Mission’s recovery programs. And about 25 percent of the Mission’s staff are former clients.
The Gospel and the Mission’s religious beliefs are key to its success. That’s why it’s ironic that Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is now being told by the Washington State Supreme Court it should hire an applicant who does not agree with its beliefs. A 2021 decision by the court attempts to punish the ministry for declining to hire a lawyer for its legal-aid clinic who does not share its religious beliefs. The lawyer refused to follow the code of conduct and was not active in a local church, and therefore could not provide a pastor’s name and contact information as the Mission requires of all applicants. Most problematic, the applicant said he was applying because he hoped to change the Mission’s religious beliefs.
The Mission’s faith is integral to everything it does. It’s critical that the Mission’s employees share in its faith because if employees contradict each other on matters of faith, it would undermine the central reason why the Gospel Mission exists. That’s why, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case.
Should churches and religious organizations be forced to hire those who disagree with them? Take our poll now to share where you stand.
The Mission Changes Lives of the Homeless in Seattle
Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is located in Seattle, Washington, which had the third-largest homeless population in the United States according to federal data released in 2018.
The Mission’s ministry is greatly needed. It changes the lives of those whom it helps—people like Darryl Ann. Darryl Ann had a fraught childhood. She never felt like she could measure up to her parent’s expectations. And she found herself drawn to others who were also struggling.
She went to clubs and started using drugs and drinking alcohol. Eventually, she became a mother of four children. Then her life took a downward spiral.
She left her children. She left her marriage. She lost everything to her addictions.
“Those things I still grieve, and no matter how much clean time I have, that’s where I need Jesus because the pain is too great,” Darryl Ann says.
She was homeless, living under the I-90 bridge in Seattle.
But her life changed when she was jailed for shoplifting. “When they took me to my cell, there happened to be a Bible in there. I opened it up and the words I read spoke to me. It said to do ‘something useful with your hands for those in need.’”
It wasn’t long after spending time in jail that she started a new life with the Mission.
“I felt so much love and support at the Mission,” Darryl Ann says. “I found a role model there who is my guardian angel. With her help and the grace of God, I’ve been sober for 10 years.”
Today, she works for the Mission, using her experience and skills to counsel women struggling with addictions just like she did. Darryl Ann is one of the nearly one-fourth of Mission staff who previously were program participants. She provides a vital Christian witness to those experiencing the same struggles she did.
The Mission’s programs share the Gospel by teaching participants to surrender their lives to God and enter into a new life through Christ. And employees like Darryl Ann model this surrender to participants.
The Mission’s success rate is made possible by the fact that every employee shares and lives out its Christian beliefs.
That’s why it is so important that the Mission—and other faith-based ministries like it—have the freedom to hire those who align with its beliefs. And it’s why the Washington Supreme Court’s attempt to say who the Mission should hire is wrong.
Will you take a moment to respond to a brief poll on the issues at hand in this case? Your input will help us refine our strategy in defending your freedoms against government coercion.
Homeless Ministry at the Supreme Court
This decision by the Washington Supreme Court violates the Mission’s religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment. If the government can tell the Mission to hire someone who does not share its beliefs, it can demand that a Jewish synagogue or an Islamic Mosque employ a Christian. It can require a Catholic social-services agency to hire an atheist.
The First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty protects ministries to be able to make their own internal employment decisions. The Mission shouldn’t be forced to choose between its beliefs and changing the way it serves the homeless.
So the Mission is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case.
ADF attorneys and co-counsel petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the Mission’s case on August 2, 2021.
And it’s already receiving a huge wave of support. Seventeen states, 20 current and former state legislators, and legal scholars have submitted friend-of-the-court briefs asking the Supreme Court to hear the Mission’s case.
Do you agree? Share your opinion by taking our poll here.