A shocking government edict that a Christian-run homeless shelter in Casper, Wyoming, must hire an admitted atheist as an employee has been resolved in favor of the Christian organization.
The Wyoming Rescue Mission serves the needy residents of Casper through its homeless shelter, clothing voucher service, faith-based recovery programs and life-rebuilding assistance.
In 2020, an applicant responding to an employment advertisement from the rescue mission truthfully admitted that he was a person of “no faith.” When the rescue mission declined to offer him a position because he was not of the Christian faith, the applicant complained to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Wyoming equivalent, the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.
When the two regulatory agencies informed the rescue mission it could only require its “ministers” – which the government bureaucrats defined as leaders of the organization – to be Christians, the rescue mission asked the government entities to reconsider, and argued their position unsuccessfully for months.
Finally, this past September the rescue mission sued the agencies with help from attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The legal Complaint filed in a Wyoming federal court asserted the agencies had seriously misread federal employment law – known as Title VII – as well as past U.S. Supreme Court decisions on religious hiring and the First Amendment.
In a good-news ending to the story, ADF has announced a settlement with the federal and state agencies that recognizes that the rescue mission has the right to hire co-religionists for all its positions, not just those who qualify as “ministers.”
“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 in the press release. “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.”
As part of the settlement of the case, the rescue mission will receive a yet-to-be-determined amount of attorney’s fees it incurred in vindicating its rights.
According to ADF, last year the 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.
Title VII, which generally prohibits various types of discrimination in employment for entities with 15 or more employees, also contains a specific allowance for religious organizations to hire like-minded employees. That provision simply applies the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections to the employment field:
“SEC. 2000e-1. [Section 702]
“(a) Inapplicability of subchapter to certain aliens and employees of religious entities
“This subchapter shall not apply to an employer with respect to the employment of aliens outside any State, or to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities” (emphasis added).
It would have come as a rude surprise to Christian churches and organizations across the country if they were told by federal and state governments that the only employees they could require to be Christians were the pastors or leaders of the organization. (And that same scenario could have applied to the churches and organizations of any other faith.)
Thankfully, the egregious legal error was corrected due to the involvement of ADF attorneys.
But it’s a dangerous government mistake that should not be repeated elsewhere.
Photo from Shutterstock.