(RNS) — Members of Seattle Pacific University’s board of trustees are asking a Washington state court to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the body by a group of students and faculty at the school, arguing that the suit is an effort to “intimidate and punish leaders of a religious institution for the exercise of protected First Amendment rights.”
Seattle Pacific is a 130-year-old private Christian university associated with the Free Methodist Church, which teaches that “homosexual behavior cannot be seen as part of God’s intended role for human sexual expression, regardless of a person’s attraction, and which does not accept marriage between people of the same sex.”
The faculty and students sued the board in September in Washington’s superior court for continuing to uphold a policy that bars people in same-sex relationships from being hired to full-time positions at the school. The plaintiffs claim the policy threatens to harm SPU’s reputation and worsen an already shrinking enrollment. By possibly jeopardizing the school’s future, they argue, the board is breaching its fiduciary duty.
The board members said the lawsuit constitutes nothing more than an attempt to punish them for exercising their duties as trustees, which includes “assembling and speaking about institutional religious beliefs, policies, and church affiliations.”
They noted that three board members are volunteers “with clear statutory immunity.” The fourth, the school’s interim president, Pete Menjares, is a former volunteer “who accepted the call to lead SPU as interim president during a difficult season.”
“For their service, they are being targeted for litigation to punish them for the ‘wrong’ religious beliefs and to send a message to other potential volunteers: the wrong religious beliefs will get you sued,” they said in their filing.
Meanwhile, a collective of students, alumni, faculty and staff known as Seattle Pacific LGBTQ+ Protest, are continuing to raise money to fund the lawsuit.
So far, more than $75,000 has been raised, with funds going to the alumni-organized Our Community LLC that was created to pay legal fees for this case, according to the GoFundMe site.
“This began as a community protest, and we have to keep it going as a community. That means that we are all fighting for queer rights, together,” the group said.
The motion for dismissal was filed Nov. 28 by board members Matthew Whitehead, Mark Mason, Dean Kato and Menjares. A court date has been set for Feb. 17.