Bob Ferguson, Washington state's Attorney General, recently ordered the Seattle Pacific University (SPU) to submit documents relevant to an ongoing probe into the latter's alleged gender-based hiring discrimination.

Details of the Probe

According to a report by The Washington Times, the attorney general's office has already conducted an 18-month investigation into Seattle Pacific's alleged discrimination of many faculty members, students, and staff.

The report said that the university had issued a directive ordering staff members and faculty to "refrain from sexual behavior" that does not adhere to the university's interpretation of morality standards written in the Bible.

Such prohibited sexual behaviors include cohabitation, as well as same-sex and extramarital sexual activities, the report added.

Seattle Pacific University requires all its employees to "affirm" the said "lifestyle expectations, the Washington Times article revealed.

Reactions to the Directive

The private university's issuance reportedly did not sit well with the university community.

According to the report, several SPU students held a sit-in protest earlier this year to pressure the Board of Trustees to rescind the directive. 

The latter, however, did not heed the students' request.

Ferguson told reporters he decided to look into the matter after receiving several complaints from SPU faculty, staff, and students about the alleged hiring discrimination.

Pushback from Seattle Pacific

According to the same report, Seattle Pacific has decided to fight Ferguson's probe by filing a federal lawsuit.

Attorneys for the university cited WLAD (Washington Law Against Discrimination) as the basis for its case against the attorney general's probe.

Incidentally, the report noted that the said law serves as Ferguson's springboard for his inquiry.

Ellis, Li & McKinstry and Becket Fund act as SPU's legal representatives in its federal lawsuit against the state's attorney general.

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'A Retaliatory Move'

In its complaint filed before the Western District of Washington's Tacoma division, Seattle Pacific alleged that the state attorney general's probe serves as a 'retaliatory move' over the university's exercise of its religious speech freedom.

"In retaliation for Seattle Pacific's religious speech and exercise, the attorney general has launched a probe seeking information on religious matters and decision," the school claimed.

Their statement added that the AG also sought to gain a "thorough review' of the university's religious hiring procedures.

SPU likewise claimed that Ferguson's office wants to pry into their internal communication with employees holding ministerial functions.

Additionally, the university alleged that the attorney general aims to look into their selection process for the board of trustees, president, and senior leaders.

The complaint mentioned WLAD, saying it has a specific provision that 'excludes educational facilities run by sectarian or religious organizations not organized for private profit.'

SPU claimed such a provision applies to them.

Washington State AG's Reaction to the SPU Lawsuit

Brianna Aho, the state's attorney general spokesperson, told The Washington Times via email that Washington state's Supreme Court has said that the specific provision SPU cited applies only to employees classified as "ministers."

Aho cited the jurisprudence involving a Seattle Christian rescue mission, which applied for but was denied the WLAD exemption.

Seattle Pacific's attorneys have disputed the claim made by the attorney general's office, the Times report said.

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