September 15, 2009
Judge: Homeless Shelter Exempt from Discrimination Laws
Anti-discrimination statutes do not apply to an Idaho homeless shelter run by Christians because it is not a "dwelling," a federal district judge has ruled.
Moreover, the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects the Boise Rescue Mission Ministries' right to hold Christian services and encourage participants in its drug and alcohol recovery program to accept Christianity, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge ruled last Thursday (Sept. 10).
The 51-year-old non-profit says it runs three shelters that serve more than 28,000 meals and offers 8,000 beds to homeless persons each month. Lodge ruled that the shelters are not dwellings under the Fair Housing Act, but rather places of "temporary sojourn or transient visit."
At the same time, barring the Boise ministry from "teaching, preaching and proselytizing to individuals on its property, whether they be shelter guests, Discipleship program residents, or other individuals ... would substantially burden the Rescue Mission's ability to freely exercise its religion," Lodge wrote.
The Intermountain Fair Housing Council had sued Boise Rescue Mission Ministries on behalf of two individuals who said that guests who skip the shelters' worship services received inferior treatment, and that only Christians are allowed in its drug and alcohol recovery program.
"Most homeless people are desperately low in spirit," said the Rev. Bill Roscoe, executive director of the Boise Rescue Mission Ministries, "so we offer voluntary spiritual guidance to guests who desire to learn about Christianity."
Roscoe said the shelters do not discriminate on the basis of religion.