Colorado Discriminated Against Catholic Preschools by Starving Them of Funding, Court Rules

Catholic School
by Kate Anderson


A federal court ruled Wednesday that Colorado discriminated against Catholic preschools by refusing to allow them to participate in the state’s school voucher program over their faith.

St. Mary’s Catholic Parish and St. Bernadette’s Catholic Parish filed a lawsuit against the state in August 2023 after Colorado denied its application to the state’s universal preschool (UPK) program because the schools consider religious beliefs when deciding whether or not a student can attend the school. Judge John Kane Jr., a Jimmy Carter appointee, of the District Court of Colorado determined that the state had erred in allowing “faith-based providers” to receive exemptions in similar cases but not the preschool, according to the 101-page opinion.

“The Department has allowed faith-based providers to deny children and families equal opportunity based on their religious affiliation, or lack thereof, and has cited no compelling interest for permitting that discrimination while denying Plaintiffs’ request for a related exemption,” the judge wrote. “On that narrow basis, I conclude Defendants have violated Plaintiffs’ free-exercise rights.

In 2022, Colorado’s Department of Early Childhood established its UPK program, which provides 15 hours a week of free preschool to private, public and faith-based schools, but denied St. Mary’s and St. Bernadette’s applications because the schools asked parents about their religious beliefs. The state argued that the parishes denied families an equal opportunity to attend their schools and therefore could not participate in a state-funded program, according to the lawsuit.

Kane, however, dismissed this claim, pointing out that the department allows other religious schools and other institutions to obtain exemptions and “discriminate” due to their faith all of the time, according to the opinion.

“In their attempts to include and accommodate faith-based providers, Defendants have created an unworkable scheme that breaches the appropriate limits on state power,” Kane wrote. “Defendants enable faith-based providers to effectively discriminate on the basis of religious affiliation in their admission of preschoolers but, at the same time, deny Plaintiff Preschools an explicit exemption from the related aspect of the equal-opportunity requirement. Defendants have provided no compelling interest for their course of conduct.”

“Of course, a Catholic school shouldn’t be punished for caring about its students’ religion,” Nick Reaves, counsel at Becket, the law firm representing the parishes, said in a press release. “Colorado richly deserves this injunction, as it did the earlier one.” 

The Colorado Department of Early Childhood did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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Kate Anderson is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation. 








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