In Education

Catholic Preschools Sue State Officials Over Law Barring Them From Funding Program

Two Catholic preschools filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Colorado Department of Early Education officials for allegedly excluding them from being accepted into the state’s Universal Preschool Program (UPK) due to their traditional religious beliefs.

St. Mary Catholic Parish and St. Bernadette Catholic Parish prioritize Catholic families during the admissions process and require their staff to adhere to principles in line with the faith of the Church on issues such as marriage and “human sexuality,” according to the lawsuit. In Colorado, however, the program does not allow religious schools to get access to the funding program if they discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, prompting the schools and the Archdiocese of Denver to sue with the Becket Religious Liberty Fund, arguing that the law violates the First Amendment.

“Our preschool exists to help kids harness the skills they need to flourish and grow into individuals prepared to serve others in hope, joy, and love,” Tracy Seul, director of Development and Preschool at St. Mary Catholic School, said in a press release. “We are called to offer this ministry to every parent who wants to provide their child with an authentic Catholic education.” 

In 2022, the state began accepting applications for its UPK program, which allows low-income families who are approved to be granted funding for “half-day (15 hours) of state-funded, voluntary preschool” or 10-hour programs if a particular school offers it, according to the department’s website.

The program requires that schools who wish to participate do discriminate against potential students due to “race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, lack of housing, income level or disability, as such characteristics and circumstances apply to the child or the child’s family,” according to the lawsuit. The program also bars the schools from screening for families that fit the faith-based criteria of the Catholic faith.

The schools require staff to sign “Archdiocese-approved employment contracts” yearly to confirm that they will “abide by and uphold Catholic teachings on (among other issues): life, marriage, and human sexuality,” according to the lawsuit. This requirement is also at odds with the UPK program’s anti-discrimination rules, preventing the parishes from applying for the 2023-24 school year.

“Universal should mean universal,” Nick Reaves, counsel at Becket who is representing the schools, said in the press release. “Colorado is slamming the door on hundreds of parents that need help sending their kids to preschool, all because the schools that are best for their kids reflect their beliefs. We are asking the court to stop Colorado’s campaign against preschoolers and the schools that want to serve them. Families should be free to choose the private school that best meets their needs—whether it is secular or religious.” 

The department did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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