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Supreme Court of the United States

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission Fights for Freedom to Hire Co-Believers

By Dustin Hobbs posted on:
December 14, 2021

The stock market crash of 1929 and the following years of the Great Depression forever changed America’s landscape. In just three years, millions of families had their savings wiped out, and by 1933 over 25% of Americans were unemployed. Fathers and mothers faced enormous difficulties just to feed their children.

To meet the basic needs of fellow citizens in dire need, countless churches and ministry organizations stepped up to provide much-needed resources – nourishment for body and soul.

In 1932, as homelessness and hunger spread throughout Seattle, local business leaders and clergy came together to bring relief to their community. On April 4, 1932, these leaders organized Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission to reach out to the hungry and homeless through a soup kitchen. Led by Dr. Francis O. Peterson, more than 9,300 meals were served in the first four months of 1933. By 1938, over 100 men were sheltered at the Mission each night.

Today, the Mission provides food, shelter, addiction-recovery, job placement, and legal services to the Seattle community.

Most importantly, it continues to be committed to bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who desperately need to hear about the man who died to save them from their sins and loves them regardless of their condition.

But in 2016, a man decided to apply for a full-time position with the Mission’s legal-aid clinic – despite the fact that he did not agree with the Mission’s religious beliefs or follow its religious-lifestyle requirements. In fact, he applied with the stated purpose of trying to change the Mission’s beliefs.

Find out what happened next.

You can understand why the Mission had to choose another candidate. For the Mission to fulfill its purpose of preaching the life-changing Gospel message, all employees and volunteers need to be like-minded and of one heart when it comes to the Mission’s religious beliefs.

The Mission has a spectacular success rate – two years after graduating from one of its recovery programs, about 70 percent of clients are working or in school.

This success rate is made possible by the Mission ensuring that every employee shares its Christian beliefs.

They’ve seen what God has accomplished through them as they seek to fulfill the Great Commission – making disciples – by attending to the immediate and real-life struggles of those in their community.

How can the Mission carry out its vision – to see every homeless neighbor beloved, redeemed, restored – if their own staff has disagreements about religious beliefs?

Unfortunately, this applicant sued the Mission. The Washington Supreme Court ruled in his favor – even though the state specifically excludes religious nonprofits from laws that control employment decisions.

The First Amendment is clear: no government official can decide whether an applicant is religiously qualified for a ministry job. No faith-based nonprofit should be forced to choose between hiring someone who clearly disagrees with core tenets of its religious beliefs or changing how it serves its neighbors after almost 90 years.

But the Mission isn’t backing down. With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, it’s appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A win would uphold a God-given freedom, not just for the Mission, but for every religious nonprofit.


Dustin Hobbs, Senior Digital Copywriter & Editor

Dustin Hobbs

Dustin Hobbs serves as the Senior Digital Copywriter & Editor at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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