Skip to content

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission

Why did the government attack a homeless ministry?
Seattle's Union Gospel Mission

Take a moment to imagine how your life could be different.

Imagine that no matter how hard you try, you cannot shake the desire for a drop—just one more—of alcohol. You lose your job. You lose your family. And it’s all because of addiction.

Pretty soon, you’re on the streets. You’re homeless.

You sleep under overpasses or any place that is warm at night. You find food wherever you can.

Your life has completely fallen apart. You feel hopeless.

Until your eyes meet the caring faces of workers with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.

For the Mission, helping someone who is homeless and addicted starts with offering them dignity. Meeting a physical need. That could come in the form of a blanket, a warm and safe place to sleep, or even something as simple as a meal.

Today, the Mission serves Seattle’s homeless by providing food and shelter, as well as addiction recovery, job placement, and legal-aid programs.

And the ministry is spectacularly successful.

Two years after program graduation, about 70% of the Mission’s clients are working or in school.

And many of its graduates want to invest back into the Mission. That’s why around 25% of the Mission’s staff are graduates of its programs.

No government would want to mess with that success … would it?

Think again.

A Washington Supreme Court decision tried to punish the Mission for declining to hire employees who do not share its Christian faith. This faith is the foundation of everything the Mission does, so it must hire employees who exemplify its religious beliefs to be successful.

Alliance Defending Freedom asked the Supreme Court to hear the Mission’s case, but the Court declined because the case wasn’t over. Justices Alito and Thomas said that the case “may warrant our review in the future.”

Afterwards, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the case. While the Mission did not have the opportunity to return to the Supreme Court, other ministries like the Union Gospel Mission of Yakima are asking courts to defend their right to hire religious employees.

Until the Supreme Court resolves this issue, religious ministries in Washington remain under threat.

What is Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission?

The roots of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission go all the way back to 1932 when it started feeding and caring for others during the Great Depression.

The ministry exists “to bring the love of Jesus and hope for a new life to our homeless neighbors.” The Mission’s staff attempt to live out the Greatest Commandments and the Great Commission every single day. Everything they do is in service of preaching the Gospel through word and deed.

Today, they bring the love of Jesus Christ to more than a thousand homeless and hurting neighbors in Seattle every day.

The city had the third-largest homeless population in the U.S., according to federal data released in 2018. The Mission’s ministry in the city is critical.

Man Served at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission
Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission serves its homeless neighbors in the city, working to ensure that they are beloved, redeemed, and restored.

The Mission’s religious beliefs are the foundation of everything it does. Every staff member and high-impact volunteer must believe and share the hope of new life through Jesus Christ.

That’s what was at stake in the Mission’s case. Will you give a gift to help defend other Christian ministries like Union Gospel Mission of Yakima that are facing similar threats?

Attacking Seattle's Union Gospel Mission

The success of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission would quickly end if its employees didn’t “walk the talk,” let alone if they actively worked against the Mission’s Christian faith.

That’s why organizations like the Mission must be able to decide who shares its beliefs.

If one Mission employee explains to a client what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and then another employee contradicts or denies that message, then all the Mission’s employees lose their credibility. And the Mission is no longer able to fulfill its mission: bringing the love of Jesus to its homeless neighbors.

Think about how damaging that could be to the Mission and Seattle itself.

But the Washington Supreme Court tried to punish the Mission for declining to hire a lawyer for its legal-aid clinic who did not share its beliefs, refused to follow the Mission’s religious code of conduct, and was not active in a local church and therefore could not provide a pastor recommendation. All these qualifications are required for every employee and are incredibly important to the Mission’s success.

“Churches and religious organizations have the First Amendment right to hire those who share their beliefs without being punished by the government. Courts have consistently recognized that a religious organization’s purpose will be undermined if the government forces it to hire those who do not subscribe to the group’s beliefs.”

The lawyer who wanted the position disagreed with the Mission’s religious beliefs and applied for the position hoping to get the Mission to change those beliefs. When the Mission declined to hire him, he filed a lawsuit.

In March 2021, the Washington Supreme Court incorrectly ruled against the Mission. ADF and our co-counsel appealed this ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Change Your Beliefs

The Washington Supreme Court’s decision put Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission to an impossible choice: change the way it serves the vulnerable or violate its Christian faith.

Neither of these choices is acceptable. This is a clear violation of the Mission’s religious freedom.

There are thousands of people in Seattle who need the help and care that the Gospel Mission provides. No one should want the Mission to stop or change its important work.

If the government can dictate who the Mission can hire, it can demand that others violate their beliefs too. For example, it could require that a Jewish synagogue employ a Christian, or it could force a Muslim ministry to hire an employee who doesn’t follow the Koran.

When religious ministries like the Mission lose, we all lose—especially the most vulnerable among us.

People like Darryl Ann.

Seattle's Union Gospel Mission Changes the Lives of Homeless Individuals

Darryl Ann had a fraught childhood. She never felt like she could measure up to her parent’s expectations. And she found herself drawn to others who were also struggling.

She went to clubs and started using drugs and drinking alcohol.

Eventually, she became a mother of four children. Then her life took a downward spiral.

She left her children. She left her marriage. She lost everything to her addictions.

“Those things I still grieve, and no matter how much clean time I have, that’s where I need Jesus because the pain is too great,” Darryl Ann says.

She was homeless, living under the I-90 bridge in Seattle.

But her life changed when she was jailed for shoplifting. “When they took me to my cell, there happened to be a Bible in there. I opened it up and the words I read spoke to me. It said to do ‘something useful with your hands for those in need.’”

It wasn’t long after spending time in jail that she started a new life with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.

Darryl Ann
“I felt so much love and support at the Mission,” Darryl Ann says. “I found a role model there who is my guardian angel. With her help and the grace of God, I’ve been sober for 10 years.”

Today, she works for the Mission, using her experience and skills to counsel men and women on the street struggling just like she did.

Through the Mission, Darryl Ann’s life was changed. And now, she’s helping to change the lives of others.

It’s stories like Darryl Ann’s that render the choice the Mission was put to so egregious.

Ministries Like Seattle's Union Gospel Mission Need Your Help

The First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty protects Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s and other faith-based ministries’ right to hire those who share their beliefs.

And because of that, the Mission didn’t just stand up for its own freedom. It stood up for the freedom of all Americans.

Though the Mission’s case was never finally resolved and did not return to the Supreme Court, cases like it continue in lower courts. And one day, this issue could return to our nation’s highest court. Cases that go all the way to the Supreme Court can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars—sometimes even more—from beginning to end.

But thanks be to God and the support of people like you, we’ve seen great success at the Supreme Court, winning 15 cases since 2011—including serving on the Mississippi legal team that overturned Roe v. Wade!

Will you give the best gift you can today to help defend ministries like the Mission and religious freedom for all Americans?

Thank you for giving!

Make A Donation

Donation Frequency
Make your gift monthly!
Payment Method
Secure Payment
Protected by SSL encryption and reCAPTCHA
Privacy Terms Disclosure

About Alliance Defending Freedom

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, nonprofit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

ADF was launched in 1994 by 35 ministry leaders, including Dr. James Dobson, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. Bill Bright, and Larry Burkett.

With God’s blessing, ADF has grown from the prayers of those godly leaders to become a major force in the legal battle for religious freedom, winning nearly 80% of our cases, including 15 victories at the U.S. Supreme Court since 2011.