The Wyoming Rescue Mission, in Casper, Wyoming, filed a federal lawsuit Sept. 20 after state and federal officials attempted to force the ministry to hire applicants who do not share its religious beliefs.
The Mission is a Christian ministry that has served the people of Casper since 1978. According to a press release from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing the Mission, last year it 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.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, states that in 2020, the Mission decided not to hire a self-proclaimed non-Christian for a position in its Rescued Treasures thrift store. The Mission has always made it clear 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.”
Specifically, thrift store employees are expected to help disciple and model Christian values for people participating in the Mission’s Discipleship Recovery Program, with whom they work side by side.
The 2020 applicant stated that she did not have any faith, and the Mission hired someone who shared the ministry’s Christian beliefs. The non-Christian applicant then filed a charge of discrimination with Wyoming’s Department of Workforce Services and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The Department of Workforce Services concluded that, although the Mission is a religious organization, it may only require “its ministers” (people who conduct worship services or ceremonies, or who “serve as a messenger or teacher of its faith”) to hold the Mission’s religious beliefs, not employees in positions such as the thrift shop position. The department asked the Mission to conciliate the matter, which would have required it to pay back pay, refrain from its religious hiring practices, provide written compliance reports to the department, submit to inspection and examination, and post compliance notices on its property, the lawsuit states.
The Mission declined, stating that its hiring practices are constitutionally protected. The EEOC then conducted its own investigation and agreed with the state that there should be no religious exemption in this case. Although it declined to sue the Mission at the time, it reserved the right to do so later.
In the meantime, the Mission has had to refrain from filling open positions or posting openings on the state’s job site as in the past.
ADF Legal Counsel Jacob Reed explained that the two laws cited by the government in this case “don’t demand that a religious organization risk undermining its mission and very reason for existence by hiring people who don’t even share its foundational beliefs. Although both laws allow religious organizations to hire those who share their beliefs, the government has ignored those provisions, putting the Mission to the impossible, and unconstitutional, choice of either furthering its religious purpose or changing its hiring practices to avoid penalties and liability.”
ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries, added: “The First Amendment allows religious organizations the freedom to hire those who share their beliefs without being threatened. This mission simply wants that truth recognized.”
Above: Wyoming Rescue Mission Executive Director Brad Hopkins at the mission’s facility in Casper.
Photo: Wyoming Rescue Mission