Washington Supreme Court removes rights from 80-year-old Gospel mission and other faith-based organizations to hire coreligionists.
Union Gospel Mission of Yakima Washington v. Ferguson, et al. – Coreligionist Doctrine
Union Gospel Mission of Yakima Washington (“the Mission”) is a nonprofit religious organization that was founded as a Christian ministry in 1936. Since its founding, the Mission has faithfully served its community by ministering to the homeless and those members of its community who have needed a helping hand. The Mission serves all people regardless of who they are and what they believe by providing food, shelter for the homeless and addiction recovery programs. The Mission also partners with volunteer health professionals to offer free medical and dental services to those who cannot pay for them. In addition to serving those individuals who come to them in need of help, Mission teams visit homeless areas of the community to bring food, clothing and supplies and offer shelter, help and hope.
For over 80 years, the Mission has pursued its religious purpose, guided by its sincere and deeply-rooted religious beliefs. Those beliefs include specific views on marriage and sexuality, topics which from the beginning of time have been understood and encompassed within the context of most religious creeds and doctrines. But now the Mission’s ability to continue its ministry is under attack due to a recent decision by the Washington Supreme Court, which has ruled that Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) removes the longstanding right of religious employers to hire all employees based on whether they share the organizations’ religious beliefs and seek to live consistent with those beliefs.
The WLAD prohibits employment discrimination. As it was originally enacted, the law recognized nonprofit religious organizations’ right to employ individuals who believe what the organization believes and who seek to live consistently with those beliefs. This right, known as the “coreligionist doctrine” excluded religion from the WLAD’s list of protected classes applicable to a religious employer, thus ensuring that nonprofit religious organizations were protected in their ability to hire employees who shared the organization’s beliefs. However, the Washington Supreme Court has severely restricted the rights of religious employers by disallowing religious employers to apply the standards to anyone other than ministerial employees. By eliminating coreligionist protections for religious employers, the State of Washington is using the WLAD as a sword to those employers whose religious beliefs are at odds with the State’s stance on marriage, sexuality and gender identity.
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington ruled in favor of the State of Washington, failing to recognize and uphold the Mission’s First Amendment rights. On September 23, 2023, Alliance Defending Freedom, representing Union Gospel Mission of Yakima, filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Our Role in the Case
The Independence Law Center filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit supporting Gospel Mission of Yakima Washington. Our brief, written on behalf of another religious rescue mission ministry, stresses the importance of the coreligionist doctrine in preserving a religious organization’s ability to hire employees who share the ministry’s beliefs and who seek to live consistently with those values.