The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that World Vision explicitly holds itself out to the public as a religious institution and is thus exempt from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibiting religious discrimination.
The well-known Christian humanitarian organization applauded the ruling.
"Our Christian faith has been the foundation of our work since the organization was established in 1950, and our hiring policy is vital to the integrity of our mission to serve the poor as followers of Jesus Christ," World Vision said in a statement.
"World Vision will continue to vigorously defend our organization's freedom to hire employees who share our faith, as do other religious organizations, whether Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or Christian," it added.
Three former employees had filed a lawsuit in 2007, alleging discrimination. They were terminated in 2006 after World Vision discovered that the employees denied the deity of Jesus Christ and disavowed the doctrine of the Trinity.
The employees Silvia Spencer, Ted Youngberg, and Vicki Hulse had acknowledged their agreement and compliance with World Vision's Statement of Faith, Core Values, and Mission Statement upon being hired. But their belief on the Trinity was found to be incompatible with the organization's doctrinal belief that "there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit."
When the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled in favor of World Vision, concluding that the nonprofit qualified for the Civil Rights Act's exemption, the former employees appealed.
On Monday, however, the three-judge panel rejected the appeal 2-1, saying that World Vision continues to conform to its Articles of Incorporation which state that the primary and only purposes for which the corporation is organized are religious ones, including to conduct Christian religious and missionary services.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Marsha Berzon said she is convinced that World Vision is not a religious corporation qualified for exemption and that the government simply could not operate if it were required to satisfy every citizens religious needs and desires."
"World Vision's purpose and daily operations are defined by a wide range of humanitarian aid that is, on its face, secular," she wrote.
"Although World Vision maintains that 'Christian witness' is 'integrated within' these activities, World Visions definition of 'Christian witness' encompasses all humanitarian acts, from digging a well to providing food and water to the hungry, Berzon added.
"Only the personal religious beliefs of World Vision staff differentiate these humanitarian acts from the 'ministry' that could, as World Vision concedes, be provided by people of all faiths or no faith."
World Vision serves close to 100 million people in nearly 100 countries around the world. The organization states that it is "motivated by our faith in Jesus Christ" to "serve alongside the poor and oppressed as a demonstration of Gods unconditional love for all people."
All applicants for staff positions with World Vision United States are screened for Christian commitment. The screening process includes discussion with the applicant of his/her spiritual journey and relationship with Jesus Christ and understanding of Christian principles.