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Seattle's Union Gospel Mission

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

Court: U.S. Supreme Court

Status: Active

Last Updated: 11/17/2021

Overview

Summary 

A Washington Supreme Court decision forces a religious nonprofit, Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, 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. 

Photo Credit: Seattle's Union Gospel Mission

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(Video Credit: Seattle's Union Gospel Mission)  

 

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Biographies

Kristen K. Waggoner

General Counsel

Kristen K. Waggoner serves as General Counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom. Her role includes oversight of the U.S. legal division, a team of 100 attorneys and staff who engage in litigation, public advocacy, and legislative support.

John Bursch

Senior Counsel, Vice President of Appellate Advocacy

John Bursch, Vice President of Appellate Advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom. He has argued 12 U.S. Supreme Court and over 30 State Supreme Court cases.

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.

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