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Seattle's Union Gospel Mission

Seattle's Union Gospel Mission (SUGM) v. Woods

Dismissed U.S. Supreme Court
Last Updated

Summary 

A Washington Supreme Court decision attempts to punish a religious nonprofit, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, for declining to hire employees who do not share the organization’s religious beliefs. The ministry’s religious convictions and evangelization are the foundation of everything it does, and therefore every staff member must live out and share the Mission's religious beliefs for the Mission to be successful.

On March 21, the Supreme Court declined to hear Seattle's Union Gospel Mission's case—for now. Even though the Supreme Court decided not to take this case yet, we are pleased to see the statement from Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas, saying that the “Washington Supreme Court’s decision may warrant our review in the future” because, after more proceedings in state court, the Mission could return to the U.S. Supreme Court later. Two justices 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.” Because the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling allowed just that, it may “have created a conflict with the Federal Constitution.”

Churches and religious organizations have the First Amendment right to hire those who share their beliefs without being punished by the government. As Justice Alito's statement explains, this freedom belongs not just to churches but “religious schools, and religious organizations engaged in charitable practices, like operating homeless shelters, hospitals, soup kitchens, and religious legal-aid clinics similar to the Mission’s—among many others.” ADF will continue to defend their rights.

Photo Credit: Seattle's Union Gospel Mission

 

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Legal Documents

Court
Title
Date
U.S. Supreme Court
11/15/2021
U.S. Supreme Court
9/2/2021
U.S. Supreme Court
9/2/2021
U.S. Supreme Court
9/2/2021
U.S. Supreme Court
9/1/2021
U.S. Supreme Court
8/30/2021
U.S. Supreme Court
8/2/2021

Additional Resources

One Page Summary

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission?

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is a Christian nonprofit that has been serving the homeless in Seattle, Washington for almost 90 years. It was founded in 1932 as a soup kitchen for those suffering during the Great Depression. Today, the Mission provides many services, including mobile showers, a “rescue and recovery” program that brings food and necessities to those living on the streets, a legal-aid clinic, and successful recovery programs for those struggling with addiction.

Is Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission a Christian organization?

Yes. The Mission is a nonprofit Christian ministry that was founded to bring the love of Jesus Christ to the homeless. As a Christian organization, the Gospel Mission bases its work on the Bible’s teachings and follows Jesus Christ’s command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and provide shelter for those who are homeless. The Mission is first and foremost an evangelical organization.

Who does Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission hire?

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is unique in that 25 percent of its employees are former clients whom it helped battle homelessness and addiction. Because the Mission’s Christian faith is integral to everything it does, it can only hire those people who share and live out its religious beliefs.

The Mission has a spectacular success rate—about 70 percent of clients are sober and working or in school 2 years after going through one of its recovery programs. This success rate is made possible by the Mission ensuring that every employee shares its Christian beliefs. The Mission’s programs teach participants to surrender their lives to God and enter into a new life through Christ. Employees model this surrender to participants. If they fail to do so and contradict the Bible’s teachings, then the credibility of the Gospel message is lost.

Why was there a lawsuit against the Gospel Mission?

In 2016, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission declined to hire a lawyer for its legal-aid clinic because that lawyer did not agree with the Gospel Mission’s beliefs or follow its religious lifestyle expectations for employees. After the Mission hired an applicant who satisfied its religious criteria, the lawyer sued the Mission. The Washington State Supreme Court issued a decision in the case in March 2021, holding that the Constitution does not protect the Mission’s efforts to operate according to its beliefs. Washington is putting the Mission to an impossible choice: either violate your beliefs or stop serving your homeless neighbors.

Can the government decide who religious ministries hire?

No. This is against the First Amendment right to the freedom of religion. The government should stay out of churches and religious ministries’ internal faith matters.

Biographies

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Kristen K. Waggoner
Kristen K. Waggoner
CEO, President, and General Counsel
As the CEO, president, and general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, Kristen Waggoner leads the faith-based legal organization in protecting fundamental freedoms and promoting the inherent dignity of all people throughout the U.S. and around the world.
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John Bursch
John Bursch
Senior Counsel, Vice President of Appellate Advocacy
John Bursch is senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom. Bursch has argued 12 U.S. Supreme Court cases and three dozen state supreme court cases, and he has successfully litigated six matters with at least $1 billion at stake.