The Archdiocese of Denver and a pair of Catholic parishes have filed a lawsuit against Colorado, contending that they have been unfairly barred from participating in the state’s universal preschool program because of their policy of preventing LGBTQ parents, staff, and children from being part of preschools within the Denver Archdiocese.
The lawsuit, filed August 16, claims that the First Amendment rights of St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Littleton and St. Bernadette Catholic Parish in Lakewood have been violated because of their inability to engage in Colorado’s comprehensive preschool initiative, which was launched during the 2023-24 school year.
Both parishes run dynamic Catholic preschool programs in the Denver area. Their legal action was initiated targeting Lisa Roy, executive director at the Colorado Department of Early Childhood, and Dawn Odean, director of Colorado’s Universal Preschool Program.
According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based law firm that is representing the plaintiffs and is dedicated to legal and educational efforts in the public interest, Colorado has banned funding for religious preschools because they provide an education rooted in their beliefs.
Participating schools within Colorado’s universal preschool program must admit applicants without consideration of sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation.
“Universal preschool” refers to a comprehensive early childhood education program made available to all children within a certain age range, typically before they enter formal kindergarten.
In the lawsuit, particular attention is directed toward the stipulation that preschool providers must admit all applicants irrespective of the religion, sexual orientation or gender identity of a student or their family, and are prohibited from showing bias or prejudice against any individual based on those factors.
While Colorado was not obligated to establish a universal preschool funding initiative, it is required that the implementation of such a program does not marginalize specific religious groups and providers because of their deeply held religious convictions, stated the lawsuit, which was submitted to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado by lawyers affiliated with the Becket legal fund.
The lawsuit further argues that the participation prerequisites set by Colorado would inherently bar all Catholic preschools affiliated with the Archdiocese of Denver due to “the Catholic Church’s sincere and long-held religious beliefs.”
Catholic preschools aim to secure the commitment of their teachers in upholding their religious mission. Consequently, the staff is required to annually endorse employment contracts approved by the archdiocese. These contracts affirm their dedication to upholding Catholic principles on matters such as life, marriage, and sexuality.
Similarly, families are also expected to acknowledge their comprehension of and alignment with the Catholic community’s stance on topics such as marriage, sexuality, and gender.
Moreover, in accordance with the guidelines set by the Archdiocese of Denver, Catholic schools are required to take into account whether the family of a potential student identifies as LGBTQ or is engaged in a same-sex relationship, as well as whether a student personally identifies as LGBTQ.
The lawsuit asserts that adhering to Catholic doctrine on these matters would contravene the Colorado Department of Early Childhood’s prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the lawsuit clarified, the plaintiffs maintain that following such beliefs should not be considered discriminatory.