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Washington Threatening Mission of Seattle Christian Ministry that Cares for Homeless

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, a Christian ministry serving the homeless, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case.
Alliance Defending Freedom
The Gospel Mission Search & Rescue team serves homeless neighbors in Seattle.

Richard remembers lying on a piece of cardboard and praying.

He was homeless and addicted to drugs. He had cut his friends and family out of his life and felt completely alone.

“I remember wishing I could just go to sleep and never wake up,” Richard said. “I prayed to God for some kind of change.”

God answered Richard’s prayer: half an hour later, a search and rescue team from Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission found him.

Today, Richard has been drug-free for over five years, and he now works for the same ministry that changed his life. “I would describe my life today as blessed and hopeful. I’m able to be there for people. To be God’s hands and make sure that people know they matter.”

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission cares for over a thousand homeless people every day and shows them the love of Jesus that they so desperately need to see.

But right now, the state of Washington is threatening the Christian mission of this important ministry. Read the details of its case below.

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission employees serve the homeless.
A Seattle's Union Gospel Mission employee serves the homeless


What is Seattle's Union Gospel Mission?

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is a nonprofit ministry that began in 1932 as a soup kitchen to feed and care for those suffering from the Great Depression. Today, the Mission lives out its Christian faith by bringing the love of Jesus Christ to over a thousand homeless and hurting people in Seattle every day. Through services like its soup kitchen, mobile showers, and recovery programs, the Mission seeks to restore dignity and help people move on to healthy and thriving lives.

And it’s successful. About 70% of clients are either working or in school two years after graduating from one of the Mission’s recovery programs. And about 25% of the Mission’s staff are former clients.

This amazing track record would not be possible if the Mission’s employees did not “walk the talk,” let alone actively worked against the Mission’s Christian faith.

That’s why churches and religious institutions like the Mission must be able to employ only those who share—and live out—the organization’s beliefs. If one employee explains to a client what it means to have a new life in Jesus Christ and then another employee contradicts or denies that message, the Mission loses credibility with the people it seeks to serve.


Seattle's Union Gospel Mission v. Woods

Unfortunately, the Washington Supreme Court said that Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission can be sued under state employment laws for declining to hire a lawyer for its legal-aid clinic who did not share the Mission’s beliefs.

The lawyer was not active in a local church, and, therefore, could not provide the required pastoral reference, disagreed with the Mission’s religious beliefs, and even explicitly stated that he had applied for the position hoping to change those beliefs.

If the Mission wants to continue sharing the Gospel message of new life in Christ with its homeless neighbors, it cannot hire people who disagree with its Christian beliefs—let alone those who seek to undermine them.

For this reason, the Mission couldn’t hire this applicant and hired someone else who met its religious hiring criteria. But the applicant challenged the Mission in court.


Case timeline

  • 2017: The lawyer filed a lawsuit against Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.
  • March 2021: The Washington Supreme Court ruled that the Mission must decide: change the way it serves the homeless, or violate its Christian faith. Neither option is acceptable.
  • August 2021: The Mission asked the United States Supreme Court to reverse the Washington Supreme Court’s decision.
  • March 2022: The U.S. Supreme Court denied the Mission's request to hear its case. But two justices made clear that the issue is still very much in question and may end up on the court's docket again soon. Justice Samuel Alito, in a statement joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, recognized that if “States could compel religious organizations to hire employees who fundamentally disagree with them, many religious non-profits would be extinguished from participation in public life.” They agreed with denying review now only because, after a state court trial, the Mission could return to the U.S. Supreme Court later.


What's at stake?

There are thousands of people in Seattle just like Richard—people who need the help, care, and hope that Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission provides. You would think Washington would be grateful for institutions that help citizens escape harrowing situations like homelessness and drug addiction.

But, instead, the Washington Supreme Court demanded that the Mission either violate its Christian beliefs or alter its religious ministry. If the government can bar the Mission from hiring co-believers, it can demand that other religious institutions violate their beliefs as well. It can demand a synagogue employ a Christian, or a Muslim ministry hire an employee who lives inconsistently with the Quran.

We all benefit when faith-based institutions are free to care for the poor and needy without government interference in internal matters of faith.


The bottom line

The government should stay out of the internal faith matters of churches and religious ministries.


Learn more:

See how the Mission has changed the lives of thousands of men, women, and children by serving those in greatest need and sharing the hope of new life in Jesus Christ:


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ADF team members contributed to the writing and publication of this article.