Washington State May Investigate Seattle Pacific University’s Anti-LGBTQ Hiring Practices, Judge Rules

A federal judge in Washington state has dismissed a Christian university’s lawsuit seeking to stop a state investigation into the school’s hiring practices, which excludes LGBTQ people from full-time employment.

Judge Robert Bryan of the Tacoma Division of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington dismissed a lawsuit filed by Seattle Pacific University against state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who sent the school a letter in July questioning the school’s hiring policies.

Trustees of Seattle Pacific University, a 131-year-old school affiliated with the Free Methodist Church USA, voted in May to maintain a policy that requires employees to agree to “lifestyle expectations” that adhere only to heterosexual marriage.

Critics say the rule bars gay men in same-sex relationships from being hired for full-time positions at the school, and they have protested on campus and at graduations. In September, 16 faculty, staff and students sued the school in state court, saying trustees put “their personal religious beliefs above their fiduciary duties to SPU and its people.”

Mr. Ferguson in a news release said the school’s lawsuit seeking to block the investigation — which invoked a Washington state civil rights law that specifically exempted religious institutions from its provisions — was an “extreme position” that Reagan-appointed Judge Bryan “properly rejected.”

The specifics of Judge Bryan’s ruling Wednesday were delivered verbally, according to a written order from the lawyer. A transcript of the oral opinion was not immediately available.

Mr. Ferguson said that “as a man of faith” he maintains that his “department respects the religious views of all Washington residents and the constitutional rights afforded to religious institutions” despite the investigation into the evangelical Christian school.

The attorney general, a Democrat, said “many SPU students and faculty” have complained to his office about the university’s hiring policies, which “violate the civil rights of Washingtonians.”

Seattle Pacific is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church USA, whose position statement on sexuality says that heterosexual marriage is “the only proper place for sexual intimacy.”

School employment policy states “Employees are expected to refrain from sexual behavior inconsistent with the university’s understanding of biblical standards, including cohabitation, extramarital sex, and same-sex sex.”

Lori Windham, vice president and senior counsel for the Beckett Foundation for Religious Freedom, a public law firm that represented the school, said Judge Bryan’s decision was “procedural” and “did not address the broader issue of Seattle Pacific First Amendment Rights.” .

Ms. Windham said Beckett would “continue to defend SPU’s right to express its faith in all aspects of university life.”

SPU Interim President Pete Menjares said in a statement that the school “strives to serve our students and campus community in a way that respects our Christian faith and mission. The government should not interfere with our ability to act on our sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The impact of the 131-year-old school’s sexuality policy on hiring has been the subject of controversy this year.

In June, a number of graduates were given small rainbow flags to Mr. Menjares during graduation ceremonies, where students refused to shake his hand.

Geo Rinedal, a part-time nurse instructor who is married to another man, sued Seattle Pacific in 2021, claiming he was denied a full-time position because of his sexual orientation and practices. The school said it settled the lawsuit out of court in May and did not disclose the terms.

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