(CNN) -- 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 Civll 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, Washingtion, 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.