Boyden Gray & Associates filed an amicus brief yesterday in the Supreme Court on behalf of Samaritan’s Purse in favor of the petitioner in Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission v. Matthew S. Woods, No. 21-144. The brief urges the Court to grant certiorari and hold that the First Amendment protects religious nonprofits’ right to hire those who share their faith. The brief is available here.
Samaritan’s Purse, which takes its name from the parable of the Good Samaritan, is an evangelical mercy ministry that seeks to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the world’s most vulnerable, especially through medical missions. Doctors with Samaritan’s Purse have helped the sick during an Ebola outbreak in Liberia, treated the injured just miles from ISIS fighting in Mosul, and cared for hundreds of patients during the worst of COVID-19 in New York’s Central Park.
Christian mercy ministries, like Samaritan’s Purse and Petitioner Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission serve others because of their Christian commitment to love “the least of these,” as Jesus puts it in the famous parable of the sheep and the goats. And, as the brief explains,
America has long recognized the importance of religious groups to the social order and thus given “special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations,” even when the beliefs of the ministry conflict with those widely held in society. See Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. EEOC, 565 U.S. 171, 189 (2012). As this Court has repeatedly noted, personnel is policy, and this solicitude to make decisions “free from state interference” must thus apply not only to a religious group’s decisions about faith and doctrine, but also to matters of internal governance, including whom the group selects to advance its mission.
Heretofore, the lower courts have uniformly recognized that this means that religious nonprofits may hire those who share their faith and moral vision. But the Washington Supreme Court recently broke with this consensus, holding that religious groups are liable under the state’s anti-discrimination laws if they consider whether a job candidate shares the organization’s religious and moral commitments. This is bad constitutional law and bad policy.
The Washington Supreme Court’s decision below sends an unmistakable message that religious organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, which requires staff to affirm a statement of faith that includes biblical understandings about marriage, sex, and sexuality, are simply not welcome in the State of Washington. Samaritan’s Purse has served the desperate in some of the most hostile places on earth, such as Liberia and Iraq, but if tragedy strikes in Seattle, Samaritan’s Purse would be turned away.
The Constitution forbids such a perverse and intolerant result. The Supreme Court should take action to stop this novel and anti-religious development now, before it spreads.
Boyden Gray & Associates is a boutique litigation and public policy firm, continuing C. Boyden Gray’s decades of service as counselor to presidents, business leaders, legislators, and regulators on matters of constitutional law, regulatory policy, and international affairs.
Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet the needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love.