The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal of three former employees of World Vision, whose 2007 lawsuit challenged the Christian aid organization's practice in the U.S. of hiring only Christians.

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal of three former employees of World Vision, whose 2007 lawsuit challenged the Christian-based aid organization’s practice in the U.S. of hiring only those who share its faith.

“I am pleased, relieved and gratified with the court’s action,’ said World Vision’s U.S. president, Richard Stearns, in a statement released Monday. “After four years of litigation, we at World Vision U.S. may now put this matter behind us, and continue our policy of hiring only Christians.”

World Vision is a major Christian global aid and relief organization with more than 40,000 staff worldwide.

The legal challenge focused on World Vision’s U.S. operations headquarters in Federal Way, which employs more than 1,200 people who are required to sign a statement of faith.

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Stearns, in his Monday statement, said that this hiring policy is “… vital to the integrity of our mission to serve the poor as followers of Jesus Christ.”

The case was closely watched by other faith-based organizations with similar hiring practices.

The former employees initially signed a statement of faith but then were terminated after they no longer could affirm their beliefs in the deity of Jesus Christ, nor the Trinity.

The suit argued that World Vision, which carries out a wide range of secular activities involving economic development and disaster relief, is not primarily a religious organization and that it should not be exempt from Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits religious discrimination.

In an earlier interview, the plaintiffs’ attorney, Judith Lonnquist, said the discharged employees — Sylvia Spencer, Vicki Hulse and Ted Youngberg — were in jobs that in no way affected the religious mission of World Vision.

Spencer helped maintain the organization’s technology and facilities, Hulse did miscellaneous office tasks, and Youngberg’s duties included coordinating shipping and facilities’ needs.

“There’s no ‘Christian’ way of moving furniture or performing secretarial duties,” Lonnquist said. “Yet these people lost their jobs that they were performing well, solely because World Vision didn’t like the particular brand of Christianity to which they adhered.”

The U.S. District Court in Washington state initially ruled in World Vision’s favor.

The case was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the organization’s hiring practices in a 2-1 decision.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

Information from an earlier article by Seattle Times reporter Janet Tu is included in this story.