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Govt pulls funding for CA church, preschool serving low-income, immigrant families

State, fed officials unlawfully suspend Church of Compassion, Dayspring Learning Center in El Cajon from participating in federal food program
Dayspring Christian Learning Center wall

SAN DIEGO – 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 filed an amended complaint and a motion for preliminary injunction Friday against the Biden administration and California state officials for unlawfully suspending Church of Compassion and Dayspring Christian Learning Center from participating in a food program simply because of their beliefs about human sexuality.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the Child and Adult Food Care 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 and the USDA issued new government mandates that prevent houses of worship and religious organizations that maintain traditional religious beliefs regarding human sexuality from continued participation in the program.

“The government is withholding food from families in need simply because their children attend a Christian preschool. This violates the U.S. Constitution and multiple federal laws that protect Church of Compassion and its preschool to operate according to the dictates of their faith,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus. “Ironically, in the name of combatting discrimination, government officials have excluded the church and preschool from serving the El Cajon community based solely on their religious beliefs and exercise. This is antithetical to the First Amendment’s promise of religious freedom and only hurts needy families and children.”

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 impoverished 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” nondiscrimination provisions, 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 conflict with the new mandates, government officials unlawfully suspended them from the food program on Dec. 29, 2022.

The lawsuit explains that, by implementing the new mandates, state and federal government 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 government mandates also subject the church and preschool in all aspects to Title IX, including bathrooms, dress codes, and pronoun usage. The suit claims the new government directives violate the Free Exercise, Free Speech, Freedom of Association, and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Administrative Procedure Act.

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, Church of Compassion v. Johnson, on behalf of the church and preschool in March. The attorneys are three of more than 4,700 lawyers who are part of the ADF Attorney Network.

In a similar case last year, 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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