FAQs: SPU religious freedom lawsuit

On July 27, 2022, Seattle Pacific University filed a lawsuit in Washington Western District Court against the Washington State Attorney General to defend the University’s right to hire Christian faculty and staff. The attorney general opened an investigation against Seattle Pacific in June 2022 and demanded the University turn over confidential information on employees as well as internal policies. Seattle Pacific has asked the court to step in and protect its freedom to choose employees on the basis of religion, as protected by the First Amendment.

Here are few commonly asked questions and answers about the lawsuit.

In June 2022, Seattle Pacific University was notified of an investigation by the Washington State Attorney General’s office and a demand for copies of confidential employee information and internal communications related to hiring policies. SPU believes that the attorney general’s office has targeted the University because of its sincerely held Christian beliefs.

To ensure it can protect its religious identity, SPU specifically asks the federal district court to step in and protect its freedoms under the law. It is now in federal court defending its right to hire according to its Christian mission.

This step is not without precedent. In the 1980s Seattle Pacific University filed a similar lawsuit against the state of Washington when the state attempted to interfere in SPU’s faith-based hiring decisions. After eighteen months of litigation the state backed down. Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has only further affirmed the right of religious institutions to make faith-based hiring decisions and resolve issues of doctrine and practice within their own religious communities free of government interference.

As a religious organization, and as permitted by law, the University reserves the right to prefer employees or prospective employees on the basis of religion, including the right to expect University employees to hold certain religious beliefs, to participate in certain religious observances, and to refrain from certain conduct based on the University’s religious beliefs.

The faith commitment of faculty and staff is an essential foundation of SPU’s Christian identity. For over 130 years, SPU has been guided by its Christian mission and purpose. 

Regular faculty and staff are expected to affirm SPU’s Statement of Faith and to abide by conduct standards in the Employee Handbook, including the Employee Lifestyle Expectations. We expect community members to abide by the University position that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity of a man and a woman. It is expected that Seattle Pacific University faculty and staff will engage in behaviors consistent with this understanding of human sexuality.

While SPU does not discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability, SPU does have religious-based conduct expectations for faculty and staff.

See our nondiscrimination policy for more information.

Founded in 1891, Seattle Pacific is a nationally ranked, private Christian university affiliated with the Free Methodist Church USA. More than 3,600 undergraduate and graduate students gain an education combining outstanding scholarship and thoughtful faith.

The First Amendment protects churches and other religious institutions’ right to make faith-based decisions for themselves. Our nation’s laws ensure that religious institutions are free to decide what they believe and how to live out their faith without government interference.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently and repeatedly guaranteed the rights of religious schools and universities. Supreme Court decisions in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC further protect these freedoms, saying that these First Amendment protections are at the heart of our pluralistic society and have led to the “rich diversity of religious education in our country.”

No, students do not have to be Christians to attend SPU; they are not required to be Free Methodist or to have any faith affiliation. SPU offers a liberal arts education grounded in the Christian faith to any student who wants to apply. All students have the chance to explore or go deeper in Christian faith.