The Wyoming Rescue Mission, which has been ministering to the homeless since 1978, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against state and federal officials for threatening to punish the Christian nonprofit for not hiring a self-proclaimed non-Christian as one of its thrift store associates—a role that is expected to teach the mission's Discipleship Recovery Program guests how to spread the gospel and model Christ.
Attorney Ryan Tucker of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the law firm representing the mission, says in 2020, authorities ruled in favor of the applicant's discrimination charge, and after a 16-month-long investigation, ultimately and "wrongly" determined the mission likely violated the Wyoming Fair Employment Practices Act of 1965 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ignoring the fact that neither of those laws applies to faith-based organizations' religiously-based employment decisions.
The mission was also compelled by the court to consider back pay for the unhired individual, re-education training, and compliance with certain notices.
"All these things are contrary not just to Wyoming state law, which actually exempts religious organizations like the rescue mission, but also, it's contrary to federal law as well, and certainly the U.S. Constitution," Tucker points out.
The Wyoming Rescue Mission's federal case is seeking injunctive relief and prevention of what Tucker calls government interference. The faith-based organization wants to protect its ability to hire like-minded individuals who share its beliefs and mission to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through its homeless shelter, clothing vouchers, faith-based recovery programs, and life-rebuilding assistance to Casper residents.
"Otherwise, every time they post a particular position as available, and an atheist or other individual that does not share the same faith as the institution applies, then they run the risk of going through this same investigatory process," the attorney explains. "It's unfortunate, but we're hopeful that the court in Wyoming will rule in our favor."
Brad Hopkins, executive director of the Wyoming Rescue Mission, hopes the lawsuit will "prevent this type of harassment with other Christian organizations who serve similarly across the country."
"If we don't stand up," he poses, "then who? And if not now, when?"