Ricks v. Idaho Board of Contractors
George Ricks is a 59-year-old father of four who has worked in construction for decades. The State of Idaho requires contractors to provide their social security numbers, but he could not do so for religious reasons. Even though Ricks was willing to submit alternative forms of identification, such as his birth certificate, the Idaho Board of Contractors refused to register him. The Board also refused to consider other means it has to obtain the government-issued number without involving George, such as consulting its own records or requesting it from the federal government. On January 29, 2019, Becket stepped in to represent George Ricks in his lawsuit against the Idaho Board of Contractors, filing a petition for review at the Idaho Supreme Court, arguing that the state cannot force George to choose between practicing his faith and obtaining full-time work to provide for his family.
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One man’s religious convictions
George Ricks is a 59-year-old father of four who has worked for decades as a construction worker. He sincerely believes that he should live according to his Christian faith. One of his beliefs is that the Bible, specifically the book of Revelation, warns Christians not to participate in a universal government identification system to buy or sell goods and services.
After being fired from a long-term construction job for not providing his social security number, George tried to register as an Idaho independent contractor, but was again required to provide his social security number as part of the application. George offered to provide his birth certificate as an alternative means of identification, but in 2014, the Idaho Board of Contractors—which could obtain George’s social security number in other ways, —refused to accommodate his religious beliefs and grant him a license.
No social security number, no job
The Board’s decision was motivated by money. A federal law provides that the Board of Contractors will receive extra funding if it collects contractors’ social security numbers. The intention behind the federal law is to help the government track down delinquent fathers—something no one could ever accuse George of being, as he has spent his entire adult life providing for his four children.
Yet the Board’s decision not to issue George a license has cost him the ability to find full-time work and provide for his family. Government regulations shouldn’t unnecessarily force someone to choose between being employed and practicing their religion. But in George’s case, that is exactly what’s happening. And perhaps most disturbing, Idaho’s forced choice between faith and work is entirely unnecessary: if Idaho wants George’s government-issued number, it can consult its own records or ask the federal government that issued the number; and if Idaho wants to confirm George’s identity, it can use his birth certificate, just like it does for other contractor applicants.
Becket defends free exercise
In January 2019, Becket stepped in to represent George Ricks in his lawsuit against the Idaho Board of Contractors. Becket filed a petition for review at the Idaho Supreme Court on January 29, 2019. The Board of Contractors should stop forcing George to choose between his religious beliefs and his ability to provide for his family. On March 12, 2019, the Idaho Supreme Court declined to take the case.
Importance to religious liberty
- Free exercise: Individuals should be free to hold and act on their deeply held convictions, not just in their homes or places of worship, but in their places of employment and the public square.
- Religious beliefs and employment: When a government regulation bars someone from pursuing employment because of their religious beliefs, the government must prove that there is no other way for it to achieve its goals without banning a private person’s freedom of religion.