The Wyoming Rescue Mission has filed suit against state and federal governing authorities after being told it had violated two anti-discrimination laws due to its hiring practice of only hiring those who affirm its religious mission.
The Mission has been serving the community in Casper, Wyoming since 1978. As a Christian homeless and rescue organization, it provides free meals to the community, shelter to the homeless, addiction recovery programs and services, life skills classes, job training, counseling, and clothing and essentials for those who lack necessities.
The Mission’s bylaws say that its purpose is to “restore with the love of Christ those struggling with homelessness back to society as independent community members.” Its vision is to “nurture sanctuaries of radical hospitality where the homeless and needy experience the transforming love of Jesus thus propelling the church into the lead role alleviating poverty in Wyoming.”
With such an overtly faith-based mission one would assume that those who did not share its faith would not be interested in applying. On the contrary, many applicants do not affirm Wyoming Rescue Mission’s Statement of Faith, which is part of its application process. The Mission, a religious mission exempt from the Wyoming Fair Employment Practices Act of 1965 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, has always cycled out any applicants who would not agree to its religious statements.
In 2020, however, an applicant who said she was non-Christian filed a complaint of discrimination against the Mission, leading to an investigation by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services (DWS). The Department informed the Mission that its hiring practices violated anti-discrimination laws and required that the Mission issue the applicant back pay, cease its hiring practices, conspicuously post a notice that it had settled a charge of discrimination, and more.
Despite the Mission’s protestation that it was a religious organization and the laws’ religious exemptions applied to it, the Department refused to drop the complaint.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also said that the Mission violated anti-discrimination law and said that the religious exemption did not apply to the thrift store associate position that the applicant sought. This despite the fact that Wyoming Rescue Mission requires its store associates to “always advertis[e] [their Christian] beliefs” as part of the Mission’s overarching goal to “propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” even expecting store associates to share the Gospel with those in the store.
The EEOC declined to sue the Mission over its alleged discrimination but stated that it reserves the right to do so.
Rather than change its hiring practices, the Mission has filed suit against the Wyoming DWS and the EEOC. The Mission is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Ryan Tucker, senior counsel for ADF, explained:
“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. 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.”
ADF Legal Counsel Jacob Reed said of the non-discrimination laws,
“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. 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 clearly qualifies for the exemption to these laws. Yet because courts have restricted the scope of the exemptions to non-discrimination laws, the Mission is at risk of being forced to hire those who do not agree with its purpose and vision. This is the problem with non-discrimination laws and the liberal interpretation of them. Why should an organization whose sole purpose is to propagate its religion and to help people grow in that religion be forced to hire people who do not agree with its religion?
The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who do not believe (1 Corinthians 1), but to those who do believe it is the power of God. It is not possible for a person who has not experienced the power of God to help carry out the mission of Wyoming Rescue Mission. The left wants to force religious groups to hire those who disagree with their faith in the name of anti-discrimination. Yet doing so will hinder these organizations’ ability to exercise their faith.
Americans are taught to believe that being exclusive is always evil and that observing differences between people is inherently bad. The left wants people to believe that they are entitled to a job or membership in a group, and if they are not allowed, they are being discriminated against. That is simply not so.
The exclusivity of Wyoming Rescue Mission is akin to the exclusivity of the Gospel. There is only one way and no man comes to God through any other path than Jesus Christ. Just as some people hate that exclusive claim, they also hate the idea that a non-religious person can be excluded from working for a religious group. As Christians we implore people to come to knowledge of the truth and to join us, but we do not compromise the truth for inclusivity.
Wyoming Rescue Mission is standing on its principles and hopefully that will be honored in court.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.