Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys have filed an opening brief with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Yakima Union Gospel Mission, asking the court to protect the Christian nonprofit’s constitutionally protected freedom to hire employees who share and live out its religious beliefs.

The Gospel Mission serves vulnerable members of the Yakima community through its homeless shelter, addiction recovery programs, meal services and health clinics. It carries out its Christian mission by employing like-minded believers who live out shared beliefs.

What is Alliance Defending Freedom?

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, marriage and family, and the sanctity of life. The organization has been involved in several high-profile religious freedom and First Amendment cases and has won 15 cases in the US Supreme Court since 2011.

Alliance Defending Freedom Church Alliance and Alliance Defending Freedom Ministry Alliance are the ministry arms of Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF Church Alliance primarily serves churches and religious organizations by offering legal resources and support to protect their religious liberties. ADF Ministry Alliance extends its assistance to faith-based ministries, including Christian schools and pregnancy centers, in their legal battles to uphold their religious convictions.

Legal Challenge to Protect Religious Hiring Rights

Yakima Union Gospel Mission filed Union Gospel Mission of Yakima v. Ferguson in response to the Washington Supreme Court’s 2021 reinterpretation of the state’s Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), which wrongly barred religious organizations like the Gospel Mission from hiring individuals who align with their faith.

The Mission employs people for ministerial and non-ministerial positions, but according to the Washington Supreme Court’s interpretation, non-ministerial positions would not be protected under the WLAD’s ministerial exception. When the Mission began to receive applications from people who were openly against its positions on marriage and sexuality, the organization felt compelled to remove a posting for an IT technician and refrained from posting an operations assistant position. It then paused hiring for those two positions.

In its brief, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys argued that the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) chills the Mission’s religious speech and exercise, constituting an injury in itself.

They further argued that there has been past enforcement against the same conduct that the Seattle Union Gospel Mission engages in, demonstrating that the threat of enforcement is not unrealistic.

ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries, said in a statement on Alliance Defending Freedom Media that religious organizations are free to hire employees who are aligned with and live out their religious beliefs.

“Yakima Union Gospel Mission faces substantial penalties under Washington state law for simply engaging in its constitutionally protected freedom to hire fellow believers who share the mission’s calling to spread the gospel and care for vulnerable people in the Yakima community. The Constitution allows religious institutions to make all of their hiring decisions based on an alignment of beliefs without fear of penalty. We are urging the 9th Circuit to allow the mission to seek protection in federal court so that it can continue its valuable services while continuing to adhere to the very beliefs that motivate its outreach,” Tucker added.

By Grace