A Christian college in Seattle is suing the Washington state attorney general, alleging religious discrimination, over his efforts to investigate the institution’s anti-LGBTQ employment policy.

According to the complaint, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, informed Seattle Pacific University on June 8 that his office was seeking information and internal communications about the policy, which has been widely criticized by students and members of the Seattle Pacific faculty, and garnered national attention. These last months. The policy expects university employees to refrain from “cohabitation, extramarital sexual activity, and same-sex sexual activity.”

University students have been protesting the policy for a year and a half, and this summer staged a sit-in for more than a month outside the office of Acting President Pete C. Menjares. But university leaders have refused to change the policy. Student activists said this month they plan to sue Seattle Pacific’s board of trustees for “breach of fiduciary duty”, arguing that the policy has damaged the university’s reputation and therefore , to the value of their diplomas.

Seattle Pacific is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church of North America, which passed a resolution this year that directly affects the university. The resolution states that if a university changed its employment policies to be inconsistent with church teachings on sexual conduct, it would lose its affiliation with the church.

The university’s lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington, argues that the Free Methodist Church would sever its ties with Seattle Pacific if it changed the policy, whether voluntarily or “under duress.” of the law”.

“It would result in the loss of a religious affiliation that has existed for more than 130 years,” the complaint states. The 3,400 student university was founded in 1891.

By threatening that relationship with the Free Methodist Church, the complaint alleges, the Washington state attorney general is violating the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections. Lori Windham, lead attorney at Becket Law, which is representing Seattle Pacific in the case, said Ferguson “isolated” the university because of his Christian beliefs.

“The Attorney General is exercising state power to interfere with the religious beliefs of a religious college and church, whose beliefs he disagrees with,” the complaint states. “He uses the powers of his office (and even powers not granted to his office) to lobby and retaliate against Seattle University of the Pacific.”

“For years, US courts have been clear that external officials cannot dictate how religious institutions live out their religious commitments,” Windham said in an email to The Chronicle. “Our laws protect religious universities from unlawful demands by government officials.”

Contacted for comment, a spokesperson for the Attorney General referred The Chronicle to a statement saying Ferguson’s office has not “prejudged whether Seattle Pacific University’s employment policies or actions are illegal,” and pledged to uphold a Washington law prohibiting the discrimination.

“The lawsuit demonstrates,” the statement said, “that the university believes it is above the law to such an extraordinary degree that it is immune from answering my office’s fundamental compliance questions. of the university with state law”.