Intermountain Fair Housing Council v. Boise Rescue Mission Ministries
For over 50 years, the Boise Rescue Mission has served the neediest in their community by providing addiction recovery programs, holiday meals, assistance with job searches, and youth activities. As a Christian ministry, the Mission has helped hundreds of people build productive lives and has never turned away a person in need. But in 2008, its faith-based programs and the people it serves were threatened when a federally funded fair housing group in Idaho sued the Rescue Mission under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The lawsuit claimed that by offering religious programs the Mission was discriminating on the basis of religion, despite the fact that participation in the Mission’s programs were voluntary and free of charge and the Mission received no government funding. The Boise Rescue Mission won at the district court and in 2011, won a unanimous victory at the Ninth Circuit, which protected the right of religious groups to minister to the needy according to their religious beliefs.
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A ministry with a Christian mission: serving those in need
What if a Christian homeless shelter were forbidden from holding a Christian chapel service? That almost happened to the Boise Rescue Mission, a ministry that had served the needy in Boise, Idaho for over 50 years.
The Mission serves the homeless by offering addiction recovery programs, a Veterans Ministry program, holiday meals, job searches, counseling, and after-school activities for children. From 2012 to 2013 alone, it welcomed nearly 5,000 new guests, served about 700,000 meals, and provided 250,000 beds. Hundreds have graduated from its recovery program and have moved on to build productive, successful lives. The Boise Rescue Mission has never turned away a person in need.
The Rescue Mission is a Christian ministry, one that provides a Bible-based curriculum and chapel services to those in need. Its commitment to the Word of God inspires it to welcome the homeless and needy with open arms.
A lawsuit threatens the ministry’s vital work
But in 2008, its faith-based programs and the people it serves were threatened when a federally funded fair housing group in Idaho sued the Rescue Mission under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The lawsuit claimed that the Rescue Mission discriminated on the basis of religion by encouraging guests at the homeless shelter to attend chapel services and by requiring members of the Christian discipleship program to participate in religious activities. This is despite the fact that participation in the Rescue Mission’s programs is voluntary and free of charge, and the Rescue Mission receives no government funding.
In response to the lawsuit, the Rescue Mission argued that the FHA protected the right of the homeless shelter to conduct chapel services, and that forcing the Rescue Mission to accept members of the discipleship program who reject its core beliefs would violate the First Amendment.
Court victory for religious ministries and the communities they serve
The federal district court in Idaho ruled in favor of the Rescue Mission, and the fair housing group appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In July 2011, Becket attorney Luke Goodrich argued the case in the Ninth Circuit.
In September 2011, Becket won a resounding victory when the Ninth Circuit issued a unanimous opinion in favor of the Boise Rescue Mission. The court victory enshrined the right of religious groups to minister to the poor and needy in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Learn more about this case by listening to our Podcast episode, “Religion and Recovery.”
Importance to religious liberty:
- Religious Communities – Religious communities have the right to build and lead their ministries according to their beliefs free from governmental interference or discrimination.