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When Sylvia Spencer applied at World Vision's U.S. headquarters near Seattle in 1995, she described herself as a committed Christian.

Asked on an employment form why she wanted to work for the international humanitarian aid organization, Spencer wrote, "Because I would love to work for an organization dedicated to carrying on the Lord's work!"

Another World Vision employee, Vicki Hulse, mentioned her 15 years as a Christian in a résumé attachment when she applied a few years later.

"I recently moved to this area and would very much like to find a place of employment with a Christian organization where I could be of value," Hulse wrote.

Both women signed statements affirming their Christian faith and devoted a decade to World Vision, which serves impoverished children and families in more than 100 countries.

But in November 2006, they and colleague Ted Youngberg were fired. Their offense, as determined by a corporate investigation: The three did not believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and a member of the Trinity.

"They are deeply religious Christians," said Judith Lonnquist, a Seattle attorney who filed a federal discrimination lawsuit on their behalf. "They just don't have the same beliefs that World Vision espouses."

That is the problem, said Steve McFarland, chief legal officer for World Vision. "The employees were discharged because they no longer met an essential job prerequisite: that they genuinely affirm their belief in a statement of orthodox Christian faith as understood by the World Vision board." He said that if World Vision loses the federal discrimination suit, the consequences will be wide-ranging. "This would be a seismic disruption to religious freedom in the U.S., not to mention to the separation of ...

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In the Magazine

June 2010

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