Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson recently launched an investigation into Seattle Pacific University (SPU), a private Christian school, over its anti-LGBTQ hiring policy. Ferguson suggested that the university may have violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws and is requesting more information about the employment policy and any associated complaints from the past five years.
“My office protects the civil rights of Washingtonians who have historically faced harmful discrimination,” Ferguson said in a statement. “That’s our job — we uphold Washington’s law prohibiting discrimination, incluing on the basis of sexual orientation.”
SPU, however, has refused to turn over the requested document and instead filed a federal lawsuit against Ferguson and the state. The complaint claims that the investigation is an attempt to stifle the university’s religious freedom guaranteed under the First Amendment.
“The attorney general’s actions have a chilling effect on the university’s expressive association, by requiring it to make decisions about employment under a cloud of government investigation and impending penalties,” the complaint reads. “If the university was unable to select employees who share its religious beliefs, the university’s expression would be irreparably harmed.”
The university has received national attention in recent months after its board of trustees voted in May to uphold an anti-LGBTQ employment policy. That vote sparked a walkout protest that involved approximately 200 students, faculty, and staff. During SPU’s commencement ceremony in June, a graduating student protested the policy by handing a pride flag to the university’s interim president instead of shaking his hand.