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Wyoming Rescue Mission v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Description:  State and federal government officials are threatening to punish the Wyoming Rescue Mission, a Christian nonprofit, for hiring employees who share the ministry’s religious beliefs.

Wyoming Rescue Mission Executive Director Brad Hopkins (Courtesy: Wyoming Rescue Mission).
Tuesday, Sep 20, 2022

CASPER, Wyo. – The Wyoming Rescue Mission filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against state and federal officials for threatening to punish the Christian nonprofit for hiring employees who share the ministry’s religious beliefs. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys represent the faith-based organization in its civil rights suit 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.

“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 ADF Senior Counsel 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.”

In 2020, the mission decided not to hire a self-proclaimed non-Christian for one of its thrift store associate positions—a role that is expected to teach the mission’s Discipleship Recovery Program guests how to spread the gospel and model Christ. 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.

“These laws 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,” 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 an open store associate position to fill, but it is refraining from doing so because 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. 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.

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Wyoming Rescue Mission v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming.

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.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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ABOUT Ryan Tucker

Ryan Tucker serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries with Alliance Defending Freedom. He oversees all litigation efforts to maintain and defend the constitutionally protected freedom of churches, Christian ministries and religious schools to exercise their rights under the First Amendment. Prior to joining ADF, Tucker engaged in private practice for over 16 years with a litigation boutique law firm in San Antonio, Texas, eight of those as a partner. His portfolio included all aspects of civil litigation, both state and federal, with a particular focus on commercial and complex business disputes. Tucker earned his Juris Doctor at Baylor Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Baylor Law Review. He obtained his bachelor of business administration in management at Texas A&M University, where he graduated cum laude. A member of the state bar in Texas and Arizona, Tucker is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court and multiple federal district and appellate courts.

ABOUT Jacob Reed

Jacob Reed serves as legal counsel for the Center for Christian Ministries with Alliance Defending Freedom. Reed litigates on behalf of churches, Christian ministries, and religious schools to defend their constitutionally protected rights under the First Amendment. Before joining ADF in January of 2021, Reed was an associate attorney at Baker Dublikar in northeast Ohio. Reed earned his law degree summa cum laude from the University of Akron School of Law in 2019. While in law school, Reed was president of the Akron Law Christian Fellowship, was an associate editor on the Akron Law Review, and received certificates in trial advocacy/dispute resolution and constitutional law. He graduated from Kent State University summa cum laude in 2016 with a B.A. in political science–American politics. Reed is admitted to the Ohio and Virginia bars and multiple federal courts.