Public schools aren’t discriminating by doing business with churches opposed to same-sex relationships, state says

State officials ruled this week that Salem-Keizer School District isn’t discriminating against LGBTQ employees by holding meetings at a community center owned by a church which opposes same-sex relationships.

The Oregon Department of Education’s decision comes after a Salem-Keizer employee filed a complaint through the Salem-Keizer Education Association about staff training and other district meetings held at Broadway Commons, which is owned by the Salem Alliance Church.

The employee alleged that by doing business with a church that holds discriminatory views, the district was itself discriminating against LGBTQ employees. But a review by the state found the business relationship wasn’t enough to claim discrimination, and that the church doesn’t discriminate in hiring employees for Broadway Commons.

DOCUMENT: ODE decision on Broadway Commons discrimination complaint

“The district has no power over Broadway Commons’ hiring processes. The district also has no power over Salem Alliance Church’s beliefs concerning LGBTQ individuals and groups. In fact, given that the district is merely meeting at Broadway Commons, it would be difficult to find that the district ‘permits’ any of the community center’s actions,” wrote Mark Mayer, the department’s complaint and appeals coordinator, in the decision.

“There is no discriminatory act occurring at Broadway Commons over which the district has any power,” Mayer concluded.

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Salem Reporter obtained a copy of the decision, and a tort claim filed by the employee, through public records requests.

It’s an issue that came up earlier this year when the city of Salem made plans to temporarily move the library to another Salem Alliance-owned building while the main library is under construction. That decision led to pushback from the city’s Human Rights Commission over the same concerns, though the city decided to move forward with the space.

READ: Plan to move Salem library to church-owned property stirs discrimination concerns

Salem Alliance Church “holds to the biblical standard that sexual relations are reserved for marriage between one man and one woman,” church leaders wrote in an email to the district employee who filed the complaint.

But leaders said that belief doesn’t impact staffing decisions at Broadway Commons, which include a coffee shop, restaurant and meeting spaces.

“Even though Broadway Commons is owned and operated by Salem Alliance, we have not chosen to use it as a religious platform. We have not discriminated on the grounds of sexual orientation during our hiring process at Broadway Commons, nor have we ever taken action against a Broadway Commons employee based on those grounds,” church leaders wrote in a Feb. 14 email to the employee who filed the complaint.

Salem-Keizer has business agreements with several churches in the district, often to use church facilities for parking or church roads for access to schools.

District spokeswoman Lillian Govus said the district would continue to hold meetings and trainings at the Commons following the decision. She said being able to use a variety of community spaces for district needs was important “especially when we have so many spaces that are down because of the bond construction.”

Salem-Keizer Education Association leaders and their attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.