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CO school free to participate in universal preschool program consistent with religious beliefs

Federal court rules in favor of Darren Patterson Christian Academy’s freedom of religion while school’s lawsuit against state officials proceeds
Darren Patterson Christian Academy

DENVER – A federal district court ruled Saturday to allow Darren Patterson Christian Academy to participate in Colorado’s universal preschool program consistent with its religious beliefs while the school’s lawsuit proceeds. In its ruling granting the school’s request for a preliminary injunction, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado also denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing the Christian school filed a lawsuit in June against state officials for demanding the school surrender its religious beliefs and exercise to participate in the state’s program, which guarantees every four-year-old in the state at least 15 hours per week of state-funded preschool services for this school year.

“The government cannot force religious schools to abandon their beliefs and exercise to participate in a public benefit program that everyone else can access,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus, who argued before the court on behalf of Darren Patterson Christian Academy. “The U.S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed this constitutional principle multiple times, most recently last year, and now thankfully, so has this court. Darren Patterson Christian Academy has been serving Chaffee County families for over 40 years. Yet Colorado officials tried to force it to abandon its religious beliefs—the reason why parents choose to send their kids to the school—to receive critical state funding. That is a violation of the school’s First Amendment rights.”

“If [Colorado officials] enforce the anti-discrimination provisions against [Darren Patterson Christian Academy]—which they have left open the door to do—that will likely violate [the school’s] First Amendment rights,” the court wrote in its opinion in Darren Patterson Christian Academy v. Roy. “Indeed, exclusion of a preschool is inherently anti-universal, and denying participation based on one’s protected beliefs or speech is not equitable.”

The school, located in Buena Vista, applied for and obtained approval to participate in Colorado’s new universal preschool program, which guarantees every four-year-old in the state at least 15 hours per week of state-funded preschool services per school year. The school welcomes all families and children—accepting any child who meets its enrollment criteria regardless of the religious beliefs or background of the child or the child’s family.

The Colorado Department of Early Childhood, however, mandated that, for the school to participate in the program and receive critical state funding, it must hire employees who do not share its faith and alter internal rules and policies that are based on the school’s religious beliefs about sexuality and gender—including those that relate to restroom usage, pronouns, dress codes, and student housing during expeditions and field trips. To protect its ability to participate in the program without compromising its religious beliefs, the school requested an exemption in May of this year, but the department denied that request.

  • 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.