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Seattle Pacific University files lawsuit as AG investigates policy prohibiting staff from same-sex activity

An attorney for SPU says it's a matter of religious liberty. Organizers protesting the policy say it discriminates on a campus that is typically LBGTQ+ affirming.

SEATTLE — Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Friday his office had opened an investigation into whether a Seattle Pacific University (SPU) policy prohibiting faculty and staff from engaging in same-sex sexual activity constitutes illegal discrimination. In response, SPU filed a lawsuit with religious liberty nonprofit Becket Law.

Student and staff opposition to the policy prompted protests, a sit-in and a walkout earlier this year. 

Student organizer Chloe Guillot is heavily involved in ongoing efforts and welcomed the state Attorney General's investigation. 

"The initial reaction to the Washington AG's investigation was definitely excitement. We had done the whole campaign to reach out to the Attorney General in May and we hadn't heard anything back, so I think in our minds we had kind of filed that back as something we tried and hadn't worked," Guillot said. "So to see there was an investigation going on in that time is really encouraging because it also means that somebody beyond just our group of students and faculty has eyes on this issue and sees the importance of it."

Daniel Benson is an attorney for Becket Law, the religious liberty nonprofit representing SPU. 

"The United States Supreme Court has long held that the first amendment protects religious organizations' ability to decide for themselves what they believe and how they will carry that out," Benson said. "The university is now in federal court hoping to protect its ability to live out its faith and create a community of vibrant Christian faith in accordance with its religious beliefs."

Benson argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed the rights of religious education organizations, and claims that the First Amendment serves as protection for SPU to make its hiring and personnel decisions on the basis of its Statement of Faith

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"That's what this suit will vindicate, is that right of religious organizations to be authentically religious and to maintain those religiously based hiring standards," Benson said. "What the university does is ask for the right to continue being authentic to its religious beliefs, and that means, for its faculty and staff, maintaining religious hiring policies that are in line with the university's faith."

Guillot disputes that characterization, saying that the campus itself is welcoming of a diverse range of Christian beliefs and arguing that the policy is not representative of the school as a whole.

"That's kind of what we've been arguing," Guillot said. "We have so many students and staff and faculty who are Christian and who also want this policy to change so it's really not an issue of Christianity or religious freedom. So for SPU to take that approach is extremely contradictory to the university atmosphere itself, so it just shows that they have their view of what they think is the right way to practice Christianity and they're doing that on a campus that's supposed to praise all ways of doing Christianity."

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