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U.S. District Court in Denver. Image courtesy of Flickr

The case of Darren Patterson Christian Academy v. Roy will receive a hearing beginning at 9:30 a.m. this coming Thursday, October 5 in the United States District Court, for the District of Colorado. The case involves the state’s new Universal Preschool program, known as UPK.

The Buena Vista-based Darren Patterson Christian Academy will be represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) group. Following the hearing in the Alfred A. Arraj United States Courthouse, Courtroom A1002, 901 19th Street, Denver, the ADF has already announced that its attorneys on the case will be available after the hearing to take questions.

The case pits a Christian pre-school that wants to be free to take public money but reject U.S. civil rights hiring laws, against state and federal government’s equal rights laws.

As covered by Ark Valley Voice in June, 2023, voters in Colorado approved free, universal preschool in November 2021. But it is doubtful they could have imagined that the state would be sued by a Christian daycare over the state’s standards that don’t allow educational institutions receiving state funds to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Darren Patterson Christian Academy in Buena Vista applied for and obtained approval to participate in Colorado’s new universal preschool program. Initially, they appeared to overlook the civil rights mandates included by the new Colorado Department of Early Childhood, and gave no indication to this brand new Colorado education department that they wouldn’t comply. But by the end of June, 2023, they demanded to be treated the same in receiving pre-school funds, but said they would not comply with Colorado anti-discrimination laws.

The state, in mandating that schools that participate in the program to receive critical state funding, will be required to treat equally and hire employees who do not share its faith. The requirement, claims the school, will 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.

As religious institutions that do NOT accept public money, these entities have been free to do what they want regarding civil rights. Now —  the state says that if they want this new public money — they’ve got to meet the state’s civil rights/anti-discrimination mandates just like every other school is that is receiving the funds.

The lawsuit filed by the state-licensed Christian preschool facility (which operates under the name “Busy Bees”) sues the state over the discrimination requirement. It claims that meeting the state’s anti-discrimination standards will require the facility to “surrender their religious character, their Christian beliefs, and exercise to participate in Colorado’s universal preschool program just like everyone else.”

According to ADL, “Religious schools should have the right to be religious”.

While ADF’s lawsuit on behalf of the school claims to protect its religious freedom, this approach might be an outlier. If it were to win, it could well open the way for other “religious” groups that might claim that they require human sacrifice, or flogging children, or condoning slavery as their religious beliefs. That might sound extreme — but the case could create legal precedents.

For those who may not be familiar with ADF (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund), it is an American conservative Christian legal advocacy group that focuses on attempts to expand Christian practices within public schools and in government, outlaw abortion, and curtail the rights of LGBTQ people. ADF is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, with branch offices in Washington, D.C., and New York, among other locations.

A few months after this lawsuit was filed, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Colorado filed a similar lawsuit.