At issue is the school's employee lifestyle expectation policy that states in part that "employees are expected to refrain from sexual behavior that is inconsistent with the university's understanding of Biblical standards, including cohabitation, extramarital sexual activity, and same-sex sexual activity."
Lori Windham at Becket, the law firm representing Seattle Pacific University (SPU) in the case, explains that Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) notified the school that he was starting an investigation, and he demanded copies of confidential information related to employees and university policies.
In its press release on the lawsuit, the Free Methodist Church-associated private school says it "believes the attorney general's office has targeted the university of because of its Christian beliefs." SPU is "asking a federal district court to ensure it can maintain its religious identity."
"We informed the attorney general that these requests were contrary to the protections that the First Amendment gives to religious organizations, but the attorney general decided to proceed with that investigation anyway," the attorney explains. "That is why Seattle Pacific felt it was necessary to go into court, to protect its rights."
Ferguson has three weeks to respond to the allegations in the complaint.
Windham says the bottom line is Seattle Pacific University does what many religious universities do: It asks its employees to affirm the university's statement of faith and abide by the same standards of conduct.
"Because of that, the state attorney general -- who has a history of going after religious people like the owner of Arlene's Flowers -- has decided to investigate this religious university. That would set a very troubling precedent for religious groups and religious people across the country if that was allowed," the attorney submits.
The controversy reportedly began in January 2021 after an adjunct nursing professor filed a lawsuit accusing the university of refusing him job opportunities because of his chosen sexual orientation. Four months later, the university's faculty took a vote of no confidence in its board of trustees after members of the board declined to change the hiring policy.
According to SPU's lawsuit, if the school were to change its employment policies to allow hiring Christians in same-sex marriages, then the university "would be automatically disaffiliated from the Free Methodist Church" and "no longer be a denominational institution.
AFN reached out to Ferguson for comment but did not receive a response.