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USA News

Seattle homeless shelter asks Supreme Court to uphold its ability to hire those of similar beliefs

by Premier Journalist

In Seattle, a homeless shelter is asking the Supreme Court to reverse a state court decision to require the shelter to house people with whom they do not share religious beliefs. 

Seattle's Union Gospel Mission was founded in 1932 as an outlet to help those suffering during the Great Depression. The ministry has grown immensely; and now provides food, shelter, addiction recovery, job placement, and legal services to those in need. The Union Gospel Mission's primary goal is to "bring the love of Jesus and hope for a new life to our homeless neighbors" by addressing root causes and breaking the cycle of homelessness.

In 2017, Matthew Woods applied to join the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) as part of their legal-aid clinic. He was not given the position due to what appear to be conflicting accounts. Alliance Defending Freedom, representing UGM in this filing sent to the Supreme Court, claims that it is over him not being a Christian. Woods, however, told the Seattle Times he did identify as a Christian, but that his bisexuality put him in tension with UGM's beliefs.

When Woods sued the Union Gospel Mission for discriminating, the court dismissed it based on UGM's religious non-profit status, which allowed them to discriminate and hire according to religious belief. The dismissal was reversed two years later, with the state's Supreme Court deciding in March 2021 that "the state's exemption for religious organizations from Washington's anti-discrimination employment law remained constitutional. However, the way it was applied to Woods may not have been legal, the court ruled, in that the position Woods applied for may not have been ministerial work protected by the exemption."

Now ADF has filed a petition on UGM's part, asking the Supreme Court to get involved. "Unless this Court intervenes, anyone will be able to demand a job while contradicting a religious organization's core beliefs, and faith-based non-profits will lose their autonomy to freely associate without state interference," reads the ADF petition to the U.S. Supreme Court in Seattle's Union Gospel Mission v. Woods. "The federal government and Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits have all recognized that the First Amendment protects religious non-profits' right to hire coreligionists. So should this Court, just as it relied on a long line of lower-court decisions to recognize the ministerial exception in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC."

The Supreme Court will not begin hearing oral arguments until October 2021. It remains unclear if the court will decide to hear oral arguments for this case.

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