Catholic parishes file appeal in First Amendment case against Colorado's Universal Preschool program

The attorneys representing two parishes in Metro Denver say the State's equal opportunity requirement, violates their right to religious freedom.
Posted at 5:17 PM, Jul 08, 2024

DENVER — Attorneys representing two Catholic parishes in Colorado are appealing a recent ruling in their case against the state's Universal Preschool program (UPK).

Last summer, a lawsuit was filed claiming that the UPK's equal opportunity requirement violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment for St. Mary Catholic Parish in Littleton and St. Bernadette Catholic Parish in Lakewood.

In June, a judge ruled in a split decision, ultimately deciding that nothing in the UPK equal opportunity requirement indicated religious discrimination.

"Catholic preschools teach Catholic doctrine in school. They have Catholic beliefs about the Eucharist, about marriage, about family. They teach kids that in school. But when they admit students to their preschool, they want to make sure that they're not creating a conflict between what the school is teaching and what the family believes," said Nick Reaves, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the parishes.

The House bill that created the UPK program states that "each preschool provider provides eligible children an equal opportunity to enroll and receive preschool services regardless of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, lack of housing, income level, or disability, as such characteristics and circumstance apply to the child or the child's family."

Catholic parishes file appeal in First Amendment case against Colorado's Universal Preschool program

While preschools are not required to participate in the UPK program, Reaves argues it creates a financial burden exclusive to Catholic schools.

"When you've created this Universal Preschool program that basically makes every preschool free for 15 hours a week, and the only ones that aren't free are a handful of religious schools, it's almost like you're imposing a direct tax on those religious schools," said Reaves.

He also plans to argue that the Supreme Court has already decided on such cases.

"If you create a program that gives money to private schools, to secular schools, you can't keep people out just because they're religious. So that's the first point I would make. I think the Supreme Court's been very clear on that," he said.

Reaves plans to file the briefs toward the end of the month, with oral arguments anticipated with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals sometime in the late fall.

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