Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Wyoming’s largest homeless shelter has won the right to hire only Christians.
Casper-based Wyoming Rescue Mission in September sued the state’s Department of Workforce Services director, Robin Sessions Cooley, in her official capacity.
The department had launched a 16-month investigation into the mission after it refused in 2020 to hire a self-proclaimed non-Christian for one of its thrift store associate positions. The non-Christian had filed a discrimination complaint.
“The Mission fulfills its religious purpose by maintaining a body of likeminded believers, so it only hires people who agree with and adhere to its religious beliefs,” the mission said in its original complaint.
The department had indicated during its investigation, the mission’s complaint said, that the organization’s religious exemptions to hiring laws only applied to “ministerial” employees.
Cannot, Will Not, Enforce
But about two months after being sued, the state department changed its interpretation of the mission’s exemptions.
The parties settled the lawsuit Nov. 22 in an agreement acknowledging that the mission has religious exemptions, both from the state’s Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Cooley and her office “cannot, will not, and (have) no jurisdiction under present Wyoming law to enforce” those laws against the mission, the agreement states.
The department director also agreed to reimburse the mission’s attorney group, Alliance Defending Freedom, $10,000 in legal fees by Thursday.
Wyoming Rescue Mission is a 501(c)3 nonprofit group that houses, clothes and ministers to Casper’s homeless population. It also offers faith-based recovery problems and “life-rebuilding assistance” to community members.
Part of is Christian mission, the group said in its complaint, also is to spread the Christian gospel.