The Wyoming Rescue Mission filed a federal lawsuit last week against state and federal agencies for threatening to punish the Christian nonprofit for hiring employees who share the ministry's religious beliefs.
The mission, a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit religious organization, has welcomed anyone from the community in need of refuge, recovery, and rehabilitation for the last 44 years, according to its website.
A press release from Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF), reveals 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.
ADF attorneys, representing the faith-based organization filed the lawsuit, Wyoming Rescue Mission v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming.
"The Wyoming Rescue Mission is doing exceedingly important work to uplift the Casper community by providing free meals, shelter, recovery programs, job training, and hope. The mission's hiring practices, including its ability to hire like-minded employees who subscribe to its faith, are essential to fulfilling its calling," said Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries.
"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," Tucker said.
According to court documents, the mission requires all employees to agree with its religious beliefs. Before having 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."
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.
According to the lawsuit, during the pre-screen interview, the mission again advised the applicant 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 after not being selected for the position 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.
"These laws don't demand that a religious organization risk undermining its mission and the very reason for existence by hiring people who don't even share its foundational beliefs," said ADF Legal Counsel Jacob Reed. "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."
The mission currently has a store associate position to fill, but at present has chosen not to fill it. The government's application and interpretation of the law would force the mission to hire individuals who do not share its religious beliefs, which are essential to the mission's very purpose, according to the ADF.
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.
In an email, Ty Stockton, chief deputy administrator for Policy, Planning & Communications, for the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services told CBN News his department cannot comment on pending litigation.
CBN News also contacted the EEOC for comment. Victor Chen, the EEOC's director of communications responded by saying the agency is reviewing the complaint.