Darren Patterson Christian Academy (DPCA), a private school in Buena Vista, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Colorado Department of Early Childhood and Colorado’s Universal Preschool Program over nondiscrimination requirements to receive state funding for universal preschool.
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.
“This civil-rights action seeks to prevent the government from forcing a Christian preschool to surrender its religious character, beliefs, and exercise to participate in Colorado’s universal preschool program just like everyone else,” reads the complaint that was filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.
According to the filing, those beliefs are that “to advance its religious purposes and goals, it must maintain an internal community of employees who share and live out its faith. The school also holds sincere religious beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and gender. It believes and teaches that God created only two unique, immutable sexes—male and female; ‘that the definition of marriage found in the Bible specifically and only means one biological man joined to one biological woman in a sexually exclusive, covenantal union’; that ‘sexual expression and activity is by God’s design reserved for marriage for our joy, happiness, and well-being, both as individuals and for society’; and that any ‘sexual activity outside of Biblical marriage’ — such as premarital, extramarital, or homosexual activity — is sinful and wrong.”
In February, a group of religious and conservative organizations, including the Independence Institute’s Education and Policy Center, the Colorado Catholic Conference, and the Colorado Association of Private Schools, among others, signed a letter to Governor Jared Polis asking for an exemption from the nondiscrimination requirements to receive state funding to provide universal preschool. That request was denied, as was a May email sent to the Colorado Department of Early Childhood by DPCA.
According to the lawsuit, “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.”
DPCA’s website lists annual tuition for preschool as $1,750 to $5,850, plus a $50 registration fee.
“Colorado officials are unconstitutionally forcing Darren Patterson Christian Academy to make the untenable choice of adhering to its religious beliefs and forfeiting participation in an otherwise generally available public program or surrendering its beliefs to participate equally with other preschools in the state,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jake Reed in a news release. “We urge the court to affirm that the First Amendment fully protects the school’s right to operate according to its faith and still join the state’s preschool program.”
Colorado currently has some of the most robust nondiscrimination laws for LGBTQ people. In recent years, schools like Monument Academy in El Paso County, have pushed back against the application of those nondiscrimination laws to students, despite the 2013 ruling in favor of Coy Mathis, a trans student in the Fountain-Fort Carson School District who was denied bathroom access.
This week, Senators John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) reintroduced the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, education, employment, public accommodations, federal funding, and more at the federal level.
“Our LGBTQ+ community deserves the right to be who they are without fear of discrimination and hate,” said Hickenlooper in a news release. “The Equality Act will follow Colorado’s lead so the LGBTQ+ community is as protected as everyone else. Love is love is love!”
However, the ADF argues that discrimination by religious institutions is constitutionally protected. “The Constitution is clear: The government may not deny participation in a public program simply due to a school’s internal religious exercise,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus in a news release. “The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed this principle in 2017, 2020, and 2022. Darren Patterson Christian Academy has been serving Chaffee County families for over 40 years. Colorado officials are violating the school’s First Amendment rights by forcing it to abandon its religious beliefs — the reason why parents choose to send their kids to the school — to receive critical state funding.”