Seattle Pacific U. sues for right to discriminate against gays

Seattle Pacific University, a private Christian college, sued the Washington attorney general on Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to halt an investigation of its hiring practices.

SPU doesn’t hire LGBQT faculty or staff. In May, its trustees reaffirmed that policy, triggering protests by faculty and students. On Friday, July 29, the attorney general, a Democrat, confirmed that his office has opened a discrimination investigation after receiving complaints. Washington is a state that’s protective of LGBQT people.

Lawyers for the school contend its actions are protected by “separation of church and state.” To illustrate why that argument shouldn’t wash, let’s hypothesize a religion practices human sacrifice. Would the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom prevent the government from prohibiting that practice? Of course not. You can’t necessarily do whatever you want in the name of religion, or by cloaking it with claims of religious freedom.

And if government can prohibit religion-based human sacrifice, why can’t it also prohibit race-based or gender-based discrimination? That’s for judges to untangle.

There’s a good chance SPU’s discriminatory hiring practices will be upheld by the current U.S. Supreme Court if the case gets that far, which no doubt is on the minds of the school’s trustees and lawyers.

But should they be? If homosexuality is a behavior, as religious conservatives usually argue, then a religious group has a strong argument for excluding behavior incompatible with their beliefs from their religious community. But if it’s a biological condition people are born with, which science says it is, then discriminating against LGBQT people because of who they are is not qualitatively different from discriminating based on skin color.

And if government can prevent that type of discrimination, the argument goes, it should be able to prevent this type of discrimination, too. And arguably, the religious nature of the employer shouldn’t change that.

Which raises another question: Should religious groups be able to exclude minorities from their religious community? And if so, it such a group runs a school, should they be able to only hire white faculty and staff, and only admit white students?

It’s quite a Gordian knot, isn’t it, trying to figure out what’s allowed or not under our federal and state constitutions and laws.

Photo: Gays not welcome here

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