WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed a leading Christian charity organization could hire and fire its workers based on their religious beliefs.

The nine justices of the nation's top court, opening their new term, upheld a ruling by a lower court that World Vision was a religious organization and as such was exempted from laws against religious discrimination.

Three former employees, who had been fired in 2007 in a dispute over the requirement that they had to be Christians, had taken their case to the Supreme Court. But the justices on Monday refused to take up the suit, meaning the lower court's ruling from August stands.

"Today's action by the US Supreme Court represents a major victory for the freedom of all religious organizations to hire employees who share the same faith -- whether Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, or any other religion," the president of World Vision, Richard Stearns, said in a statement.

World Vision employs some 30,000 people around the world.

Stearns said he was "pleased, relieved and gratified with the court's action" which brought to an end four years of legal battles.

"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," he added.