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Washington AG investigating Seattle Pacific University for potential discrimination

caption: A sign in solidarity with LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and staff hangs in the window on Seattle Pacific University's campus.
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A sign in solidarity with LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and staff hangs in the window on Seattle Pacific University's campus.
Noel Gasca

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has confirmed his office is investigating what it calls "potential illegal discrimination" by the administration at Seattle Pacific University.

Back in May, the university's board of trustees voted to keep a school policy in place that states it won't hire employees who are gay, lesbian, or transgender. Specifically, the policy states the university prohibits employees from engaging in "same-sex sexual activity."

RELATED: 'This doesn't feel like love' — SPU students sit-in for LGBTQ equality on campus

That decision proved controversial among the university's students, many of whom staged a sit-in protesting the policy. Around that time, the AG's office said it received complaints from students, faculty, and staff about the issue, alleging it violates Washingtonians' civil rights.

“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, including on the basis of sexual orientation."

“My office respects the religious views of all Washingtonians and the constitutional rights afforded to religious institutions. As a person of faith, I share that view. My office did not prejudge whether Seattle Pacific University’s employment policies or its actions are illegal. We responded to the complaints from concerned Washingtonians by sending the University a letter. The letter asked four questions. The letter also invited the University to provide any additional information that it wanted my office to consider."

The letter was unpublicized, until now. It asked SPU to provide its policies around employees and sexual orientation; provide all instances when such policies were used to hire, fire, or discipline an employee; provide complaints from any employee or potential employee about such policies; and provide job descriptions for employment at the school.

Instead of responding to the letter, the school filed a federal lawsuit against the AG's office, arguing that SPU "is under fire—and government investigation—by Washington’s attorney general."

"Seattle Pacific University, like many religious universities, is navigating complex issues regarding Christian teachings on justice, love, marriage, and human sexuality. Seattle Pacific holds to traditional Christian beliefs regarding marriage and sexuality, in alignment with the Free Methodist Church," the lawsuit states, further arguing that the Constitution allows the university to require staff to "agree" with the its perspective on marriage and faith.

"The attorney general is wielding state power to interfere with the religious beliefs of a religious university, and a church, whose beliefs he disagrees with," the lawsuit states.

The AG counters that the lawsuit is an attempt to obstruct a lawful investigation, and further, that SPU "believes it is above the law to such an extraordinary degree that it is shielded from answering basic questions from my office regarding the University’s compliance with state law."

The AG's office is asking anyone who believes they were discriminated against by the university to contact its civil rights team at

More updates on KUOW's Today So Far Blog

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