Christian Ministry Wins Legal Battle, Will Be Allowed to Hire Christians
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Just two months after the Wyoming Rescue Mission filed its federal lawsuit against state and federal agencies for threatening to punish the Christian nonprofit for hiring employees who share the ministry's religious beliefs, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced they reached a favorable settlement in the case.
As part of the settlement, state officials acknowledged that the rescue mission, as a religious organization, is free to hire like-minded employees who share the ministry's religious beliefs and mission to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through its homeless shelter, clothing voucher service, faith-based recovery programs, and life-rebuilding assistance to Casper residents.
"The First Amendment protects Wyoming Rescue Mission's freedom to hire those who share its beliefs without being threatened and investigated by the government," said ADF Legal Counsel Jacob Reed. "We're pleased to favorably settle this case for the rescue mission so it can continue its critical work of serving some of Casper's most vulnerable citizens and spreading the gospel."
On behalf of the faith-based organization, ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Wyoming Rescue Mission v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming.
According to court documents, the mission requires all employees to agree with its religious beliefs. Before being forced to remove it, the mission's "Career Opportunities" webpage explicitly stated that "Employees are expected to commit to the precepts in our Statement of Faith, and to help the Mission fulfill its mission statement, vision statement, and ends statement."
And the Mission's employment application says: "The Mission considers every position one of ministry and a vital and valued part of our team. Therefore, it is essential that all employees of the Mission have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and subscribe to our Statement of Faith and Ministry Principles. Employees must be willing to lead and/or participate in Bible study, prayer, devotions, and sharing the Gospel."
As CBN News reported, in 2020, the mission decided not to hire a self-proclaimed non-Christian for one of its Rescued Treasures Thrift Store associate positions. Included with this job is the responsibility of teaching the mission's Discipleship Recovery Program guests how to spread the gospel and model Jesus Christ.
The lawsuit explains that the mission advised the applicant during the pre-screen interview that it is a Christian ministry and that all employees must agree with the Mission's statement of faith and demonstrate Christian principles in their life and work as a condition of employment. The applicant responded that she did not have any faith.
The non-Christian applicant then filed a discrimination charge against the mission with Wyoming's Department of Workforce Services and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to Decision Magazine.
State officials conducted a 16-month-long investigation to determine if the mission engaged in discrimination as prohibited by law.
The officials determined the mission likely violated the Wyoming Fair Employment Practices Act of 1965 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for refusing to hire the non-Christian applicant, ignoring the fact that neither of those laws applies to faith-based organizations' religiously based employment decisions.
After ADF attorneys filed suit, the government capitulated and agreed the mission can hire only "those individuals who agree with and live out the mission's religious beliefs and practices."
"Like-minded employees who share the mission's purpose to spread the gospel and uplift the Casper community by providing free meals, shelter, recovery programs, and job training are essential for the Wyoming Rescue Mission to continue its important work," said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. "Wyoming officials have rightly recognized that both state and federal laws protect religious organizations' ability to hire those who share their beliefs."
As part of the settlement in Wyoming Rescue Mission v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) agreed to pay the rescue mission's attorneys' fees. In light of the settlement, the court dismissed the EEOC from the case and signed a consent decree settling the case with the state.
A press release from the ADF revealed that in 2021, the mission served 60,862 free meals to the public; provided 41,037 beds for men, women, and children; enrolled 92 Discipleship Recovery Program participants; offered 5,597 case management sessions, and gave 1,208 thrift store vouchers worth $39,649.92 that provided free clothing and essentials to families and guests in need.
John G. Knepper, one of more than 4,600 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network, served as local counsel for the Wyoming Rescue Mission.
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