Ricks v. Idaho Board of Contractors

One man’s religious convictions 

George Ricks is a 59-year-old father of four who has worked in construction his entire career. A long-time student of the Bible, George believes it is wrong to provide his Social Security number as a condition of obtaining work. 

In 2014, he tried to become an independent contractor. But in Idaho, where George lives, it is a misdemeanor to work as a contractor without first registering with the state, and registering requires providing a social security number. George was willing to provide any other form of identification, including his birth certificate, but he has a sincere religious objection to using his Social Security number to secure employment. The Idaho Board of Contractors—which makes exceptions for others, and which could obtain Ricks’s Social Security number in other ways if it really needed to—refused to accommodate his religious beliefs and denied his registration. 

No social security number, no job 

The Board’s denial was motivated by money. A federal law dictates that the Board of Contractors will receive extra funding if it collects contractors’ Social Security numbers. The law’s intent 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 refusal to register George cost him the ability to find full-time work and provide fully for his family. Government regulations shouldn’t force someone unnecessarily to choose between being employed and practicing their religion. But in Ricks’s case, that is exactly what’s happening. Idaho’s forced choice between faith and work is entirely avoidable: the other licensing laws already grant accommodations to foreign residents who don’t have Social Security numbers; and if Idaho really needs Ricks’s government-issued number, it can consult its own records or ask the federal government to provide it. 

Becket defends free exercise 

Needless bureaucracy should never take precedence over the free exercise of religious beliefs. The Board of Contractors should stop forcing George to choose between his religious beliefs and his ability to provide for his family. In January 2019, Becket stepped up to represent George in his lawsuit against the Idaho Board of Contractors. After the Idaho Supreme Court refused to hear his case, Becket filed a petition in the Supreme Court of the United States on July 10, 2019, asking the Court to hold that the Free Exercise Clause requires Idaho to accommodate George’s religious beliefs. On June 28, 2021, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari for 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.

Intermountain Fair Housing Council v. Boise Rescue Mission Ministries

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 CommunitiesReligious communities have the right to build and lead their ministries according to their beliefs free from governmental interference or discrimination.