After students protest against Christian university prompts state investigation, school files 1A lawsuit

Seattle Pacific University filed a lawsuit against Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson for alleged religious persecution.

Ferguson launched an investigation into the university’s hiring practices and policies in June.

Seattle Pacific University (SPU) filed a July 27 lawsuit against state Attorney General (AG) Bob Ferguson after a student protest in May prompted a state-led investigation into alleged “discriminatory” employee standards.

Ferguson’s investigation examines SPU’s policy that prohibits same-sex relationships and requires employees to follow the Biblical teaching of sexuality. 

According to SPU's lawsuit, the AG's investigation required the university to release internal communication and employee information, but SPU is challenging the probe.

Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the attorney representing SPU, told Campus Reform that “external officials cannot dictate how religious institutions live out their faith commitments.”

“Our laws protect religious universities from unlawful demands by governmental officials,” she said.

Ferguson released a statement on July 29 arguing that his investigation was launched due to student protest:

“My office respects the religious views of all Washingtonians and the constitutional rights afforded to religious institutions. As a person of faith, I share that view," he stated.

Ferguson went on to emphasize, however, that his office "protects the civil rights of Washingtonians who have historically faced harmful discrimination. That’s our job — we uphold Washington’s law prohibiting discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation."

[RELATED: Christian university lets students register their preferred pronouns]

SPU maintains it has the right to require faculty members to abide by the religious principles valued at the school, and accused the AG office of “target[ing]” the school because of its Christian affiliation in their lawsuit.

“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 lawsuit reads.

 "[The AG] is using the powers of his office (and even powers not granted to his office) to pressure and retaliate against Seattle Pacific University. But governmental attempts to probe the mind of a religious institution are a blatant form of entanglement barred by both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.”

According to a July 28 statement regarding the case by Interim President Pete Menjares, “For over 130 years, our university has been guided by our Christian mission and purpose, and we’re asking to continue that tradition." 

“The faith commitment of our faculty and staff is an essential foundation to our identity as a Christian university," he went on to say.

[RELATED: Christian college upholds ‘conservative values,’ rejects Critical Race Theory]

SPU’s fight for religious liberty has faced pushback from some students, however.

Seattle Pacific University LGBTQ+ Protest, a student-led group that opposes the school’s employee policy, criticized the university’s decision to engage in legal action on Instagram, claiming the school is "aligning itself with the religious right" and that "true Christian values" include the hiring of openly gay faculty.

As Campus Reform previously reported in July, the student group intends to file a lawsuit against the university for upholding the religious policy. While the group originally intended to raise $75,000 to cover legal costs, its GoFundMe page now upped the goal to $150,000.

To date, the fund has raised upwards of $49,000.

Campus Reform contacted SPU, Ferguson, and the student group for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

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