“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.”
This case centered on the mission’s decision to not hire a self-proclaimed non-Christian who applied for one of the mission’s thrift store associate positions—a role that is expected to teach the mission’s Discipleship Recovery Program guests how to spread the gospel, model Christ, and disciple one another. The applicant then filed a discrimination charge, and government officials conducted a 16-month long investigation to determine if the mission engaged in discrimination prohibited by law. The government 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 applicant, ignoring the fact that neither of those laws apply to faith-based organizations’ religiously based employment decisions.
The mission had been refraining from filling an open store associate position because the government’s application and interpretation of the law would have forced the mission to hire individuals who do not share its religious beliefs. 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.” Now the rescue mission can employ individuals who share the mission’s faith without fear of government enforcement and can fill its open store associate position.
“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 have agreed to pay the rescue mission’s attorneys’ fees. In light of the settlement, the court dismissed EEOC from the case and signed a consent decree settling the case with the state.
Last year, the Wyoming Rescue 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, is serving as local counsel for the Wyoming Rescue Mission.