The Denver Archdiocese has filed a lawsuit claiming that the state Universal Preschool Program’s requirement of accepting applicants regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and religious affiliation violates First Amendment rights.
The Universal Preschool Program, administered by the Colorado Department of Early Childhood, provides eligible families with free preschool for 4-year-olds and 3-year-olds for a minimum of 15 and 10 hours per week, respectively.
The lawsuit primarily focuses on two Catholic preschools, St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Littleton and St. Bernadette Catholic Parish in Lakewood. The Archdiocese contends that the state has prohibited funding for religious preschools because they provide education rooted in their beliefs.
The lawsuit specifically objects to the program’s requirement that preschools accept any applicant, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, without discrimination. The Universal Preschool Colorado Program Service Agreement specifies that providers must offer equal opportunities to enroll and receive preschool services, regardless of various factors, including religious affiliation and sexual orientation.
The Archdiocese has previously advised local Catholic schools not to enroll transgender students and to treat gay parents differently than heterosexual couples. Both schools require staff to adhere to Catholic teachings on life, marriage, and human sexuality, which the Archdiocese argues would violate the state’s requirements for preschool providers.
The lawsuit argues that enrolling children of LGBTQ parents would lead to conflicts because Catholic schools cannot compromise their mission and identity by treating same-sex couples as equivalent to natural families.
According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C., which is representing the Archdiocese, approximately 20% of families sending their children to Denver Archdiocese schools qualify for free and reduced-price school meals and are eager to take advantage of the state’s program.
The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the court that the requirements regarding religious affiliation, sexual orientation, and gender identity violate the schools’ First Amendment rights. It also requests that the court order the state to allow the Archdiocese schools to participate in the preschool program.