An association of Christian colleges and universities is taking issue with a news outlet describing faith-based educational institutions' hiring practices as "homophobic," maintaining that embracing biblical views of marriage "does not mean religious institutions are hostile to LGBTQ people."
Amanda Staggenborg, the chief communications officer for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, wrote a letter to the editor of Inside Higher Ed Thursday titled "Christian College Policies Are Not 'Homophobic.'" CCCU advocates on behalf of the interests of its over 180 member Christians higher education institutions across the globe.
The letter addresses the content of an Aug. 1 article titled "Seattle Pacific Sues Washington AG."
The piece highlighted the litigation involving Seattle Pacific University, a Christian college based in Seattle, Washington, affiliated with the CCCU, and the state's Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Seattle Pacific is suing Ferguson after the state opened an investigation into the institution's "employment policies and practices that permit or require discrimination based on sexual orientation, including by prohibiting same-sex marriage and activity."
"The article describes the hiring policies of SPU as 'homophobic,'" Staggenborg wrote. "We believe this mischaracterizes the university's Lifestyle Expectations and labels all Christian colleges and universities that follow a faith-filled mission in accordance with Biblical marriage standards unjustly."
The article, as it currently appears, contains one mention of "SPU's homophobic hiring policies." Staggenborg requested that the website "remove the word 'homophobic' from the article," expressing gratitude that "the title was already amended" to remove the term.
In a Google search result Monday, the article's headline read, "Seattle Pacific sues Washington to keep homophobic policies." The URL for the article includes the words "keep homophobic policies."
However, the earliest version of the piece captured by the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine shows the current headline.
The Employee Lifestyle Expectations Staggenborg referred to in her letter explain that "SPU employees are asked to make behavioral and lifestyle choices consistent with moral integrity, social consciousness, and effective Christian witness."
The list of expectations identifies behaviors "university employees are expected to refrain from," including "sexual behavior that is inconsistent with the University's understanding of Biblical standards, including cohabitation, extramarital sexual activity, and same-sex sexual activity."
"The CCCU supports the religious mission of our member institutions and advocates for a robust understanding of religious freedom where the right to practice these beliefs includes the right to hire for mission. Our institutions uphold Biblical views of marriage as between one man and one woman. Following these views is a choice that each student, faculty member and employee makes when attending, teaching or working at a Christian institution," Staggenborg added.
Reiterating her belief that it was "incorrect and unfairly pejorative to label Biblical views of marriage as 'homophobic,'" she cited the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
"The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered."
"Homophobia, as used in the article, implies a hostility or fear of LGBTQ people that is dangerous and prejudicial," Staggenborg stated. "To be clear, LGBTQ people are welcome at Christian colleges and universities. Respecting the tradition of marriage in accordance with upstanding moral behavior is not homophobic. It is grounded in the Bible and a foundation for a moral society as lived throughout the mission and practices of each CCCU institution."
She stressed CCCU's belief that "all human beings, without exception, are invested with inherent worth and dignity" and that "in a pluralistic society, we must respect people with different views from ours."
"The words and tenor of this article did not show respect for constitutionally protected views that may differ from those of the author," she wrote. "[H]omophobia has no place in Christian colleges and universities" and "also should not appear when describing them."
In its lawsuit against Ferguson, Seattle Pacific University contends that the attorney general is "wielding state power to interfere with the religious beliefs of a religious university, and a church, whose beliefs he disagrees with."
SPU believes Ferguson's actions are "a blatant form of entanglement barred by both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment."
It also alleges that Ferguson is infringing on the university's rights 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."
As noted in the lawsuit, Seattle Pacific University's policies have gained attention due to a January 2021 lawsuit filed by "a faculty applicant alleging sexual orientation discrimination."
In the months following the complaint, faculty members and students called on the school's Board of Trustees to change its policy regarding human sexuality. When the Board declined to do so earlier this year, a group of students organized a protest and demanded that Ferguson take action against the school.
In the June 8 letter to Seattle Pacific University sent on behalf of Ferguson, Washington, Assistant Attorney General Daniel Jeon asked the institution to "identify and describe every instance in which the policies … have been applied in connection with a decision whether to hire, promote, discipline, and/or terminate any prospective, current, or former University faculty, staff, or administrator, as it relates to their sexual orientation or status of being in a same-sex marriage and/or intimate relationship."
Jeon suggested that the "possible discriminatory employment policies and practices by Seattle Pacific University" may "violate the Washington Law Against Discrimination."
The Washington Law Against Discrimination declares "The right to be free from discrimination because of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, honorably discharged veteran or military status, [and] sexual orientation" as "a civil right" that includes the "right to obtain and hold employment without discrimination."
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org