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CA church, preschool again free to serve children as part of food program

Lawsuit prompts government officials to retreat from unconstitutional discrimination
Dayspring Christian Learning Center wall

SAN DIEGO – After filing a lawsuit on behalf of an El Cajon church and preschool that serve low-income, immigrant families, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, the National Center for Law and Policy, and Advocates for Faith and Freedom reached a favorable settlement with California state officials. As part of the settlement, the officials acknowledged that Church of Compassion and Dayspring Christian Learning Center, as faith-based organizations, are free to continue participating in a federal food program while following their religious beliefs.

The officials also agreed to reimburse the church over $30,000 for the money it paid out of pocket to continue providing meals for families while it was unlawfully kicked out of the program, and agreed to pay $160,000 to cover the church’s attorneys’ fees.

“The government can’t withhold food from families in need simply because their children attend a Christian preschool. The Constitution protects the right of Church of Compassion and its preschool to operate according to the dictates of their faith,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus. “In the name of combatting discrimination, government officials excluded the church and preschool from serving the El Cajon community based solely on their religious beliefs and exercise. While it shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit to resolve this, at least now Church of Compassion can continue its vital outreach to needy children and families.”

This lawsuit came about after California officials—relying in part on the Biden administration’s reinterpretation of federal law—unlawfully suspended Church of Compassion and Dayspring Christian Learning Center from participating in the Child and Adult Food Care Program simply because of their religious beliefs about human sexuality.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the program nationwide, providing funding to California and other states. The Biden administration radically expanded its interpretation of the definition of “sex” in Title IX to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and following that change, California’s Department of Social Services excluded Church of Compassion and Dayspring from participating in the program because the church and preschool aligned their internal policies and employment practices with their beliefs about human sexuality.

Church of Compassion owns and operates Dayspring, a Christian preschool and daycare center. The church and preschool participated in the food program for nearly 20 years, receiving around $3,500-$4,500 a month to help feed needy students in its daycare and preschool daily during the school year and summer. El Cajon, where the church and preschool are located, has a large immigrant population, and many of the families served by the church and preschool qualify for free meals under the food program.

Dayspring serves all families and children, including several LGBT families who understand and appreciate the religious instruction their children receive at the preschool. While the church and preschool serve all families, they do not teach or promote all messages.

Yet government officials demanded that Church of Compassion and Dayspring fully comply with new “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” rules, including in their religious employment practices, or forfeit the right to receive public funds used to feed needy children. Because the church and preschool’s religious beliefs and practices conflicted with the new mandates, government officials unlawfully suspended them from the food program in December 2022, forcing the church to cover the expense of continuing to provide meals for the families.

The lawsuit explained that, by implementing the new mandates, federal and state officials sought to force the church and preschool to surrender their sincerely held Christian beliefs and practices regarding human sexuality, including their right to hire those with shared beliefs. The mandates also subjected the church and preschool to the reinterpretation of “sex” in all aspects of Title IX, including its application to bathrooms, dress codes, and pronoun usage.

In light of the settlement of Church of Compassion v. Johnson, ADF attorneys filed a voluntary dismissal of the case Tuesday. Dean Broyles of the National Center for Law and Policy and Mariah Gondeiro and Julianne Fleischer of Advocates for Faith and Freedom first filed the case on behalf of the church and preschool in March of last year. The attorneys are three of nearly 5,000 lawyers who are part of the ADF Attorney Network.

In a similar case, Grant Park Christian Academy v. Fried, ADF attorneys successfully advocated on behalf of a Christian school in Florida that sued the Biden administration for threatening to pull the school’s lunch program funding because of its religious beliefs.

  • Pronunciation guide: Galus (GAL’-us)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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Jeremiah Galus
Jeremiah Galus
Senior Counsel
Jeremiah Galus serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Christian Ministries.