September 20, 2011

The good guys win again: Faith and good works allowed to coexist in the Ninth Circuit

What if a Christian homeless shelter was forbidden to talk about Christ? What if a Christian drug rehabilitation program was prohibited from praying? That is precisely what was at stake in our most recent court victory.

The Boise Rescue Mission is a Christian organization dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel and helping the needy. Among its many ministries are a homeless shelter for men and a drug rehabilitation program for women. It provides all services free of charge and does not receive a dime of government funds.

But the Mission recently came under attack when a federally funded activist organization—the Intermountain Fair Housing Council of Idaho—brought a lawsuit claiming that the Mission’s Christian atmosphere constituted “religious discrimination” in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. After three years of litigation, the Ninth Circuit yesterday, September 19th, rejected the lawsuit, concluding that the Mission has a right under the Fair Housing Act to offer its services in accordance with its Christian beliefs.

This decision means that the Boise Rescue Mission is allowed to continue to serve the poor and needy while remaining faithful to its Christian mission. If this doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, think about what was at stake in this decision: think about all the faith-based relief organizations around the country and in your community that provide both social services and a religious message. If all of those groups could be sued under federal laws for “religious discrimination,” just because they serve a religious message alongside their soup and shelter, the consequences would be devastating. Religious groups would have to abandon their religious messages. Resources that should go to serving the needy would be diverted to lawsuits. Faith-based services to the needy across the country would be undermined.

But thanks to this Ninth Circuit decision, religious ministries to the homeless can continue to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of their guests, safe in the knowledge that they are squarely within their legally protected right to practice their faith.