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A private Christian university in Washington that admits to discriminating against LGBTQ+ job applicants is being sued by dozens of current and former students, faculty, and staff.
Seattle Pacific University has been under investigation by the state since May after Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson received multiple complaints from students, staff, and faculty regarding the hiring policies at SPU. In June, the university responded to an inquiry from Ferguson by filing a suit in federal court requesting protection from the Washington state investigation due to its exemption as a religious institution. SPU freely admits it discriminates against applicants who are involved in same-sex sexual relationships as they say the practice violates the institution's religious principles.
In their suit against SPU, the plaintiffs claim the university has failed "to serve the educational interest of its students" because of its anti-LGBTQ+ hiring practices. The suit asks the court to remove the trustees and officers who enabled the hiring policies, appoint a receiver to oversee an election of new trustees, review the university's finances, and award unspecified economic damages to the plaintiffs.
SPU does not hide from its hiring policies but instead embraces them as a protected right of a private religious institution.
"When hiring employees, Seattle Pacific requires regular faculty and staff to be Christians and to abide by the University's Statement of Faith as well as our Employee Lifestyle Expectations, which together shape the vision and mission of the institution as a Free Methodist 2 Church-affiliated university," the university said in a letter to faculty and students in June explaining its federal lawsuit.
In its lawsuit, SPU claims Ferguson was abusing his office with his investigation.
"The attorney general is wielding state power to interfere with the religious beliefs of a religious university, and a church, whose beliefs he disagrees with," the university says in the suit. "He is using the powers of his office (and even powers not granted to his office) to pressure and retaliate against Seattle Pacific University."
Ferguson brushed aside the lawsuit and the statements and pleadings of SPU, saying his office will not be deterred from its responsibilities to the community.
"The lawsuit demonstrates that the University believes it is above the law to such an extraordinary degree that it is shielded from answering basic questions from my office regarding the University's compliance with state law," Ferguson said in a statement last July in response to the federal suit. "Seattle Pacific University's attempt to obstruct our lawful investigation will not succeed."