Preschools provide places where young children can begin their education and learn valuable skills that will help them later in life. When the Colorado legislature passed a law establishing a universal preschool program in the state, it said it wanted to help all children enjoy these opportunities.
Unfortunately, the actions of Colorado state officials have proven that politics, not children’s education, are most important to them. The state is treating religious schools worse than others. Read on to learn how one Christian school is standing up to Colorado’s unjust actions.
What are Darren Patterson Christian Academy and Busy Bees Preschool?
Darren Patterson Christian Academy is a private Christian school in Buena Vista, Colorado. The school is named after a 14-year-old boy who was tragically killed by a drunk driver, and it was founded in 1982 to give children in the area an opportunity Darren Patterson never had—to attend a Christian school.
Darren Patterson Christian Academy has a preschool called “Busy Bees,” an elementary school, and a middle school. The school strives “to teach the truth about God” and “to present the Word of God as the authoritative source upon which to build a life that has purpose and meaning.” But the state of Colorado is punishing the school for its beliefs.
In 2022, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a law creating a universal preschool program (UPK) that gives children in Colorado access to “preschool services free of charge in the school year before a child enrolls in kindergarten.”
Eligible children can receive 15 hours per week of preschool services funded by the government, and some children can qualify for more based on factors such as family income.
Darren Patterson Christian Academy applied to participate in the program soon after it was established. The school initially received approval, and students began being matched with Busy Bees Preschool through the program. But the school later learned that some conditions to participating in the program would force it to violate its Christian beliefs.
Colorado is forcing schools to agree to two separate nondiscrimination provisions to participate. Together, these provisions would prohibit the school from only hiring employees who share its religious beliefs and from aligning its internal policies on bathroom usage, dress codes, pronouns, and student lodging during field trips with its religious beliefs about sexuality and gender.
The school asked for a religious exemption, but Colorado refused. This left Darren Patterson Christian Academy with an impossible choice: give up its religious beliefs or be excluded from the universal preschool program because of those beliefs.
In June 2023, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of the school to protect its religious freedom.
What’s at stake?
The First Amendment protects the rights of religious schools to hire employees who share their beliefs and to operate according to their faith. The government cannot force schools to give up their beliefs to participate in a government program just like everyone else. A win for Darren Patterson Christian Academy would affirm that Colorado cannot treat religious schools and families worse than everybody else.
- April 2022: Colorado passed a law establishing its universal preschool program, set to go in effect for the 2023–24 school year. To participate in the program, religious schools like Darren Patterson Christian Academy must agree to rules that would force them to violate their beliefs.
- May 2023: Darren Patterson Christian Academy asked Colorado for a religious exemption that would allow it to participate in the program without violating its beliefs, but it was denied.
- June 2023: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on the school’s behalf.
- October 2023: A federal district court ruled to allow the school to participate in the program consistent with its religious beliefs while the lawsuit proceeds.
The bottom line
The government cannot force religious schools and families to abandon their religion to participate in a public program like everyone else.