Funding Faith With Public Education Dollars

Colorado’s universal pre-k program is the subject of two lawsuits by Christian schools. Both argue that the state’s nondiscrimination requirements, particularly in regards to LGBTQ individuals, to receive universal pre-k funds are a form of religious discrimination. In June, Darren Patterson Christian Academy (DPCA), a private Christian school in Buena Vista, filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Department of Early Childhood and Colorado’s Universal Preschool Program. Last week, the Archdiocese of Denver and St. Mary and St. Bernadette Catholic Parishes filed a similar lawsuit.
Both lawsuits were filed by high-profile legal firms with ties to the religious right. DPCA is being represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative Christian legal advocacy group that has represented Lorie Smith of 303 Creative and Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, among other cases involving LGBTQ nondiscrimination. The group is considered an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center due to numerous statements and legal arguments, including support of recriminalizing sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults and linking LGBT people with pedophilia.
The Archdiocese of Denver and the Catholic Parishes are represented by Becket Law, a nonprofit legal and educational institute that focuses on cases involving issues relating to religious liberty. Becket Law is also representing Bella Health and Wellness in their lawsuit challenging Colorado’s SB23-190, which would ban the use of “abortion pill reversal.” Becket Law was also counsel for the Green family in the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, which ruled that certain employers can block their employees’ access to birth control, an exemption from the coverage guarantee under the Affordable Care Act.
“Colorado has created the universal preschool program, and it doesn’t exclude anybody in terms of kids who are able to benefit from it,” said Becket Law’s Nick Reaves during an Aug. 16 appearance on the Dan Caplis show. “All kids who are four years old should be able to get benefits — it does sound like Colorado is having some problems rolling it out, but that’s neither here nor there — so no one is being excluded from Colorado’s universal preschool program. This case is really about religious discrimination. What Colorado has said is, ‘We will fund all these different religious schools, but we won’t fund these Catholic schools because of their beliefs.’ It’s excluding religious schools.”
The complaints in both filings note the exact amount of funding that is at stake. DPCA’s lawsuit notes, “Under current Department rates, preschools in Chaffee County — including Darren Patterson Christian Academy — would receive $6,018.24 per child attending a half-day (15 hours per week) and $10,700.78 per child attending a full day (30 hours per week) for the 2023-24 school year.”

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