The Archdiocese of Denver and two of its parishes have filed a lawsuit against Colorado, claiming rules in The Centennial State’s universal preschool program violate the First Amendment.
To participate in the statewide program — and receive government monies from it — enrollees are required to follow Colorado’s anti-discrimination policy, meaning schools within the parishes would be mandated to accept all applicants, regardless of their or their families’ religious beliefs, their gender identities, or sexual orientations, according to KMGH-TV.
Leaders with St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Littleton and St. Bernadette Catholic Parish in Lakewood — alongside the archdiocese — have asserted in a court filing the state regulation violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“The [Colorado Department of Early Childhood] is purporting to require all preschool providers to accept any applicant without regard to a student or family’s religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and to prohibit schools from ‘discriminat[ing] against any person’ on the same bases,” states the lawsuit.
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By placing that burden on all schools wishing to participate in the universal preschool program, the state has “excluded a lot of religious schools because of their belief[s]” on sexuality, explained Nick Reaves, an attorney representing the Catholic parishes.
Reaves further delineated all schools associated with the archdiocese are required to “uphold and to affirm and to help promote a Catholic worldview,” which opposes any sexual interaction except that expressed by one man and one woman within the parameters of marriage.
As such, the archdiocese requires schools “to consider whether a family or child seeking placement in their schools has identified as LGBTQ, is in a same-sex relationship, or has adopted a gender identity different from his or her biological sex,” the lawsuit further states.
The schools also require parents of prospective students “to understand and accept the community’s worldview and convictions regarding Catholic moral issues like life, marriage, and human sexuality,” The Denver Post reported.
The requirements have placed an undo burden on the schools, the attorneys further claimed. Enrollment at St. Mary’s has dropped, purportedly because it does not participate in the universal program and, as a result, has been forced to raise its tuition prices.
“When you’re competing with 15 hours of free preschool, even a very reasonably priced preschool can’t compete,” said Reaves.
Through his spokesperson, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said several faith-based schools have chosen to participate in — and accept the conditions of — the state’s universal preschool program.
“The governor believes in building a Colorado for all, and a community where everyone is free from discrimination and this voter-approved program has received a 43% increase in enrollment in universal preschool, including gaining the participation of many faith-based preschool providers,” said Conor Cahill, the governor’s press secretary.
At present, there are 2,061 participants in the universal program, 37 of which are faith-oriented.
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