August 24th, 2010
11:28 AM ET

Court rules World Vision can require employees to be Christians

File photo: World Vision

Editor's Note: CNN's Stan Case files this report on 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling with far reaching implications for religious charities.

The humanitarian organization World Vision can require its employees to be Christians, a federal appeals court ruled Monday. In upholding a lower-court ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that World Vision is exempt from a provision in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act barring religious discrimination.

Three former World Vision employees brought suit after they were terminated when the organization discovered they had disavowed the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. At the time they were hired, Silvia Spencer, Ted Youngberg and Vicki Hulse submitted personal statements describing their "relationship with Jesus Christ."

In rejecting their appeal, a three-judge panel found that  "there is no dispute that the employees were fired for religious reasons." However, the judges agreed with the lower court that World Vision is exempt from the federal statute because it is a nonprofit organization that is "primarily religious" and "holds itself out to the public as a religious institution."

The San Francisco, California-based court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the exemption applies only to "churches and entities similar to churches." World Vision, with its U.S. headquarters in Federal Way, Washington, near Seattle, issued a written statement praising the court's decision. "Our hiring policy is vital to the integrity of our mission  to serve the poor as followers of Jesus Christ," the statement read.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Courts • United States

soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Hyelim

    I have been lucky enough to get a paid new cnliet through Law Pivot. While I do agree that many people on Law Pivot are not serious about looking for counsel, I have tried to patiently answer questions as best as I could (based on the facts presented), and as it turned out one company that I assisted followed up with a telephone call and separately engaged my services. There are potential cnliets out there you just have to be patient.

    October 8, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  2. Noble9

    That's awesome. Personally I'd feel kind of cheated if I found out the christian outreach folks were just pretending. It's kind of like when you go to an Italian restaurant and all of the staff is hispanic - the food is still good, but it just sort of feels WRONG.

    August 26, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
  3. Ultimate Reality

    When all the books are faded and IRS forms are no longer remembered this will remain:

    August 26, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  4. Charles Bundschu

    Thank you for your blog! Please see my article on this: http://examiner.com/x-61857-SF-Church–State-Examiner

    August 25, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  5. Jesus Blogger

    If the employees KNEW about the requirements and were hired under false pretenses, then it's their fault and they deserve to lose the job. It's like someone getting hired to be a manager, but lied about managerial experience. World Vision is exempt from the discrimination law, so I don't see anything wrong with their decisions. http://www.JesusBlogspot.com/

    August 25, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  6. Frogist

    So the only reason they were fired is because they were a different religion and not because they cared less about humanitarian needs. Seems to me this organization is not a humanitarian one or a very christian one if they will get rid of able hands who want to help the poor and hungry. They are merely opportunists who use the suffering of others to promote their unchristlike values.

    August 25, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  7. Michael D.

    There are some very ignorant responses above. Whether you are Christian, Atheist, or anything in-between, you really should read Richard Stearn's (the CEO) book "The Hole In Our Gospel" which fully addresses all of the above concerns.

    August 25, 2010 at 2:32 am |
    • Reality

      In his book, does R. Stern address the con job pulled on Christians for the last 2000 years?

      August 25, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  8. Dr. Shaun Goldstein

    Once again, religious bigotry shows its ugly face in our beloved country. When will it end?

    August 25, 2010 at 2:09 am |
  9. ShattrdWrld

    They charter themselves as Christian, and who says these 3 clowns really were Christian when they joined rather than spreading lies from the get-go. This country has become so darn lawsuit happy that it's pathetic. like the clown who burned her lip on a hot pickle (like she expected her food to be cold/frozen?) and then sue... and her husband sues for "loss of service" and they both win. Be thankful I am not a judge or there would be many fines handed out to stupid people as I could. Maybe I should just stay on Darwin Awards rather than CNN, much smarter people over there.

    August 24, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
  10. Reality

    from: guidestar.org

    World Visions total contributions for 2008 were $1,113,918,057 with government grants donating $280,590,001 to this total. The IRS Form 999 does not specifiy what government or government agency the grants came from but one assumes most came from the Federal government i.e. the USA taxpayers. One also assumes the appeals court judges were aware of this but still ruled that WV employees had to abide by the religious beliefs of WV and federal discrimination laws did not apply.

    Also from the guidestar.org site: Mission Statement for World Vision

    Dr. Bob Pierce, a Christian leader and filmmaker, in response to the needs of Korean War orphans, founded World Vision in 1950. World Vision is an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to serve the poor and oppressed through meeting their basic needs, promoting human transformation and seeking justice

    From Google:

    "One website, commenting on World Vision's work in India, accuses the organization of “consciously [infusing] Christian religiosity as part of the help they provide to socially and economically marginalized communities” and funding such efforts as Bible camps and supporting local pastors. This goes well beyond its branding as an aid and development organization. "

    Other tidbits:

    Approximately, $27 million was spent by WV on marketing in 2008. The head of World Vision, Richard Stearns salary in 2008 was ~$400,000 including benefits. The CFO’s salary was $197,050.

    August 24, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
    • David Johnson

      I never doubted that anyone they helped, would not have to pay for lunch by listening to a sermon. The true objective of these missionaries is to spread the Christian religion.

      Thanks for the info. You really are a wealth of knowledge.

      August 24, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
    • adam

      Well, of course the worst thing any human being can possibly do is try to convince others about something they believe in strongly. How dare anyone try to cover up such a pure evil wickedness like giving a sermon by performing acts of compassion and providing necessities for people in their time of need!!

      Wake up, people! Only those who hold the same beliefs as I do have the right to try and convince other people about anything.

      August 24, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
    • Dr RatstaR

      @ David and adam – I believe the point that Reality is making here is that this religious organization received government money to spread their own beliefs.

      "with government grants donating $280,590,001 to this total. The IRS Form 999 does not specifiy what government or government agency the grants came from but one assumes most came from the Federal government i.e. the USA taxpayers."

      If they receive government money they should not be allowed to discriminate. Religions should not get any taxpayer money at any time. Religious organizations should be made to pay property tax on their land holdings.

      Dr RatstaR

      August 25, 2010 at 2:16 am |
    • adam

      @ Dr RatstaR

      I can't say I know the details, but I would certainly imagine that any government grant money would come with significant restrictions about how that money can be used (i.e. not for purposes of religious teaching or instruction).

      And I don't see why people have such a problem with this. I fully support government grants to buttress effective community service and relief efforts. I, myself, am a Christian who very much believes in God. If, say, there was an atheist organization out there which only hires atheists, but which also does community service projects and does a good job of it, I would have no problem with government grants going to help with their community service efforts.

      Also, I have no problem if atheists try to convince people that God doesn't exist, as long as they go about it respectfully. (And I very much believe that anyone who goes about trying to change someone's mind about something would do very well to listen closely to the other person's point of view.)

      August 25, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  11. adam

    The court ruling is entirely appropriate. And the hiring policy make sense for an organization like World Vision. However, for a situation like this, when employees who were Christian at the time of hiring later change their beliefs, I would hope the parties would be able to come to some kind of agreement to part ways peaceably without it resulting in a lawsuit.

    Of course there is the possibility that these individuals weren't interested in reaching an agreement, but wanted to make an issue out of this. Sorry, but if that's the case, you're out-of-line. Private organizations have the right to hold certain beliefs as central to their mission if they so chose and can require employees to share those beliefs.

    August 24, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • Selfish Gene

      If they are a privately funded non-profit, they can do as they please.
      If they ever accept one red cent from the government, however, they are in violation of law.

      August 24, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      It is also against the law if they are not a declared religious organization, or their core principles are not stated publicly.

      August 24, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • Suaryodya

      I love Christmas!! It's my absolute fovturiae time of the year. There's just something in the air. If you let all the stress go and just enjoy the festiveness it is fantastic. Oh, and watching my baby girl tackle her presents Christmas morning is pretty cool too!

      October 10, 2012 at 12:36 am |
  12. Stephen Monsma

    If a Christian organization is required by government to hire atheists, a Jewish organization Muslims, and a Muslim organization Jews or Christians, such organizations would cease to be Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. And should government ever undercut the religious character of Christian, Jewish, or Muslim organizations, the free exercise of religion would be undercut.

    August 24, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
    • JaniceM

      @Stephen Monsma
      Business activities, like hiring employees, is a secular activity no matter how deep you wrap your religion around it.
      Gods do not hire employees and then submit the proper form to the IRS. Humans do these things.

      Non-profit exemptions are a clear violation of the separation of church and state provisions we have in teh US.
      We have rules about businesses in the US – rules that require equality under the law.
      When exceptions are made, they are, by definition, violations of the rules unless the rules explicitly state that the exceptions are allowed.
      If they can prove discrimination, then the case is clear enough. The organization could have pointed to other things, like character flaws, as legitimate reasons to reject those guys. That's what the clever employers do and how so many people get away with discrimination when that is the true reason.
      If liars can find loopholes in the laws, what are they really lying about and what are the real loopholes they are using?

      August 25, 2010 at 1:32 am |
  13. Reality

    And the significant stupidity of religion continues with World Vision employees being required to believe in some three headed god!!!

    A quick 21st century summary:

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (bloody wine, body replicators made from bread, resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immaculate conceptions).

    Current problems:

    Adulterous preachers, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology.

    August 24, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Kate


      Oh wow ... an original post??? How can you deny the existence of a God when a miracle occurs before your very eyes??

      Just sayin' 😛

      I'll grant you the first two problems, but you can't blame them on (or for) religion – if anything, they're the antithesis of religion.

      *waits for something you posted elsewhere to be pasted as a reply so you can try and counter being accused of being proof of miracles*

      August 24, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • Selfish Gene

      As an atheist, I would never want to work at a Faith based charity any more than I would expect a mosque/temple/church to donate to a Secular cause.
      I hope they serve beer in hell.

      August 24, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
    • Mike

      Calvin and Joe Smith in the same group.

      Like putting Newton and Mr Wizard or the Beattles and Weird Al together.

      August 24, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
    • brad

      "...to believe in some three headed god!!!

      Reality, what you are doing with comments like this is mere lampooning and ridicule. It demonstrates that you have simply made up your mind (this happens when thinking stops) and gotten a mad on. It's a good way to stop being taken seriously.
      It suggests all your comments are colored by an attitude rather than scholarship. This often happens with religiophobes.

      August 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
    • brad

      "...to believe in some three headed god!!!

      Reality, what you are doing with comments like this is mere lampooning and ridicule. It demonstrates that you have simply made up your mind (this happens when thinking stops) and gotten a mad on. It's a good way to stop being taken seriously.
      It suggests all your comments are colored by an attitude rather than scholarship. This often happens with those who are phobic about religion.

      August 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.