Association of Christian colleges and universities challenges media outlet describing hiring practices of faith-based educational institutions as ‘homophobic’, saying embracing biblical views on marriage ‘does not mean religious institutions are hostile to LGBTQ people.
Amanda Staggenborg, director of communications for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, wrote a letter to the editor of Inside Higher Ed on Thursday titled “Christian College Politics Are Not ‘Homophobic.'” CCCU represents the interests of its more than 180 member Christian higher education institutions around the world.
The letter addresses the contents of an August 1 article titled “Seattle Pacific Sues Washington AG.”
The article shed light on the litigation involving Seattle Pacific University, a Seattle, Washington-based Christian college affiliated with the CCCU, and Democratic State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Seattle Pacific is suing Ferguson after the state opens a investigation in “institutional employment policies and practices that permit or require discrimination based on sexual orientation, including prohibiting same-sex marriage and activities.”
“The article describes SPU’s hiring policies as ‘homophobic,'” Staggenborg wrote. “We believe this misrepresents college lifestyle expectations and unfairly labels all Christian colleges and universities that follow a faith-filled mission in accordance with biblical standards of marriage.”
The article, as it currently appears, contains a mention of “SPU’s homophobic hiring policies.” Staggenborg requested that the website “remove the word ‘homophobic’ from the article”, expressing gratitude that “the title has already been changed” to remove the term.
In a Google search result on Monday, the title of the article read: “Seattle Pacific sues Washington for maintaining homophobic policies.” The article’s URL includes the words “retain homophobic policies”.
However, the first version of the article captured by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine shows the current title.
The Employee lifestyle expectations Staggenborg mentioned in his letter explains that “SPU employees are encouraged to make behavioral and lifestyle choices consistent with moral integrity, social conscience, and effective Christian witness.”
The list of expectations identifies behaviors from which “University employees are expected to refrain”, including “sexual behavior inconsistent with the University’s understanding of biblical standards, including cohabitation, extramarital sexual activity and same-sex sexual activity”.
“The CCCU supports the religious mission of our member institutions and advocates for a strong understanding of religious liberty where the right to practice these beliefs includes the right to hire for mission. Our institutions uphold the biblical views of marriage between a man and a woman. Following these views is a choice that every student, faculty member, and employee makes when attending, teaching, or working at a Christian institution,” Staggenborg added.
Reiterating her belief that it was “incorrect and unfairly pejorative to label biblical views of marriage as ‘homophobic’,” she quoted the 2015 Oberfell v. Hodges United States Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
“The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and individuals are afforded appropriate protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so essential to their lives and faith, and to their own deepest aspirations to perpetuate the family structure that they have long revered.”
“Homophobia, as used in the article, involves hostility or fear of LGBTQ people that is dangerous and harmful,” Staggenborg said. “To be clear, LGBTQ people are welcome at Christian colleges and universities. Upholding the tradition of marriage in accordance with honest moral behavior is not homophobic. It is grounded in the Bible and is the foundation of a moral society. as it is experienced throughout the mission and practices of each CCCU institution.
She underscored CCCU’s belief that “all human beings, without exception, are invested with inherent worth and dignity” and that “in a pluralistic society, we should respect people with opinions different from our own.” .
“The words and content of this article have shown no respect for constitutionally protected opinions which may differ from those of the author,” she wrote. “[H]omophobia has no place in Christian colleges and universities” nor “should not appear when describing them”.
In his court case v. Ferguson, Seattle Pacific University argues that the Attorney General “is exercising state power to interfere with the religious beliefs of a religious college and church, whose beliefs he disagrees with” .
SPU believes Ferguson’s actions are “a blatant form of entanglement prohibited by both religious clauses of the First Amendment.”
It also alleges that Ferguson is infringing on the university’s rights to “decide matters of faith and doctrine, to hire employees who share its religious beliefs, and to select and retain ministers free from government interference.”
As noted in the lawsuit, Seattle Pacific University’s policies drew attention due to a lawsuit filed in January 2021 by “a faculty applicant alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation.”
In the months following the complaint, faculty members and students petitioned the school’s board to change its policy on human sexuality. When the board refused to do so earlier this year, a group of students staged a protest and demanded that Ferguson take action against the school.
In the June 8 letter to Seattle Pacific University sent on behalf of Ferguson, Wash., Assistant Attorney General Daniel Jeon asked the institution “to identify and describe each instance in which the policies … have been applied in in connection with a decision to hire, promote, discipline and/or terminate any potential current or former faculty member, staff or administrator of the University, with respect to their sexual orientation or status as in a same-sex marriage and/or intimate relationship.”
Jeon suggested Seattle Pacific University’s “possible discriminatory employment policies and practices” may “violate Washington’s anti-discrimination law.”
The Washington Anti-Discrimination Act states “The right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, veteran or honorably discharged military status, [and] orientation” as “a civil right” which includes the “right to obtain and hold employment without discrimination”.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be contacted at: [email protected]