A Christian organization serving the homeless is suing Washington state officials to protect “its constitutional right to hire employees who share the same religious beliefs,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative legal firm.
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ADF is defending Yakima Union Gospel Mission, a Christ-centered homeless shelter that has served the community for 86 years, offering medical supplies, meals, shelter, and recovery programs to those in need.
According to the legal firm, the Washington Supreme Court recently re-examined state law to prevent religious groups from hiring only those people who share their beliefs.
“The Washington Supreme Court recently reinterpreted state law to prohibit religious organizations, including Yakima Union Gospel Mission, from only hiring individuals who share its religious beliefs,” an ADF statement reads. “State officials are threatening the mission with significant penalties for using its constitutionally protected right to hire employees who share the ministry’s religious beliefs.”
Now, Yakima Union Gospel Mission, founded in 1936, is taking officials to court to ensure it can hire Christian staff members to live out its biblical mission.
Mike Johnson, CEO of Yakima Union Gospel Mission and Ryan Tucker, ADF senior counsel, recently joined CBN’s Faithwire to discuss why this critical case matters.
“Religious organizations are free to hire people who share their beliefs. That’s what makes us a religious organization,” Johnson said. “The functional benefits of that for us as a rescue mission are really important because … we are a community of Christ. We are people relating to each other around the person of Jesus.”
Watch Johnson and Tucker explain:
He said the mission’s “unity” is disrupted by the mandate that non-believers be hired.
“We love everybody that comes through our doors, but we need our employees to be able to build Christian community with each other, because that’s the essence of what drives change,” Johnson added.
Faith is central to the Yakima Union Gospel Mission’s life-saving work, as they bring hope to those stuck in cycles of addiction and homelessness.
“We exist to follow Christ in helping people move from homelessness,” Johnson said. “We operate Washington state’s largest free medical clinic, we’ve got a dental clinic, a year-long addiction recovery program, and transitional housing.”
Yakima Union Gospel Mission also sends out a van daily to reach people on the streets.
“Every bit of it is motivated by and centered around our faith in Jesus Christ — that He showed us that He loves broken people enough to send a Savior,” Johnson said. “And we’re just trying to pay that forward.”
He said the government’s interpretation has already profoundly impacted the Yakima Union Gospel Mission. The organization has reportedly had to pull job listings and has already received a “threatening voicemail,” among other responses and barriers.
“We had to pull all of our positions down off of Indeed.com, because we were getting so many of these hostile applications,” he said. “There are a couple of open positions that we’ve just decided aren’t worth … posting for right now, because it’s harmful to us to keep the position unfilled, but it might be more harmful for us to catch one of these complaints and have the attorney general after us.”
Johnson added, “It was crazy. We never experienced anything like that before.”
The ministry leader hopes the legal challenge helps protect his organization and amend the state’s handling of the matter.
Tucker explained that the lawsuit was filed after the Washington Supreme court “gutted an exemption” to the law that allowed nonprofits like Yakima Union Gospel Mission to hire “like-minded individuals.”
“Now, all religious organizations in the state, including Yakima Union Gospel Mission, are in harm’s way due to the state’s actions,” he said.
Tucker shared a specific example of the impact this could have, noting the organization recently received an application for a position from a person who said the Bible is false and that religion is “indoctrination.”
“Clearly, a Christian mission should not be forced to hire individuals who do not believe in the Bible,” Tucker said. “But under Washington’s interpretation of its non-discrimination law, it would have to.”
The attorney continued, “That’s why the Mission is bringing this lawsuit. … Yakima Mission has seen other people come under attacks, so they’re really left with no choice but to bring this action.”
You can read more about the case here.
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