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Mike Johnson, CEO of Yakima Union Gospel Mission.

WA homeless shelter files suit to protect its freedom to hire likeminded people of faith

ADF attorneys represent Yakima Union Gospel Mission in federal lawsuit against Washington state officials

Thursday, Mar 2, 2023

YAKIMA, Wash. – The Yakima Union Gospel Mission filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Washington state officials to protect its constitutional right to hire employees who share the ministry’s religious beliefs. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent the Christian ministry in its civil rights suit to protect its freedom to hire like-minded individuals who share and live out its beliefs and mission to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through its homeless shelter, addiction-recovery programs, outreach efforts, meal services, and health clinics for the Yakima community.

The Yakima Union Gospel Mission will serve anybody, but it furthers its religious purpose by maintaining staff who are likeminded believers that agree with and live out the mission’s Christian beliefs and practices, including abstaining from any sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman. The Washington Supreme Court, however, recently reinterpreted state law to prohibit religious organizations, like the mission, from only hiring individuals who share its religious beliefs, and now state officials are threatening the mission with significant penalties for using its religiously based hiring practices.

“The First Amendment allows religious organizations the freedom to hire those who share and live out their beliefs without being punished by the government,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “Yakima Union Gospel Mission now faces substantial penalties under Washington state law for simply engaging in its constitutionally protected freedom to hire fellow believers who share the mission’s calling to spread the gospel and care for vulnerable people in the Yakima community.”

“Courts have consistently recognized that the government will undermine a religious organization’s purpose if it forces the organization to hire those who do not subscribe to the group’s beliefs,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jake Reed. “The Yakima Union Gospel Mission is doing important ministry outreach in Washington state and we urge the court to uphold its freedom to carry out its calling through its staff of likeminded people of faith.”

In the wake of the state’s new interpretation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination, the mission has received applications from people who openly disagree with, or are hostile to, its religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality. To avoid being penalized by the state, the mission recently removed an online employment posting for an IT technician, refrained from posting an operations assistant position, and has paused hiring for those two positions.

The Yakima Union Gospel Mission loves and serves all people “right where they are” in multiple ways. For example, the mission offers shelter for the homeless 365 days a year and provides a family shelter for families with children. From July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, the mission provided a total of 30,167 nights of shelter to 881 different adults and 3,592 nights of shelter for children. Its Good News Café provides free meals three times a day to the public and shelter guests; the mission served 141,629 free meals in that same timeframe. Additionally, the mission’s New Life Recovery Program helps people recover from drug and alcohol addictions and homelessness, and its health clinics offer free or reduced-cost services.

ADF attorneys filed Union Gospel Mission of Yakima v. Ferguson in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.

In November 2022, ADF attorneys favorably settled a similar case for the Wyoming Rescue Mission within two months of filing suit.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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