A private Christian preschool has issued a complaint of religious discrimination against Colorado state officials.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys are representing Darren Patterson Christian Academy, which runs a preschool called “Busy Bees” in Buena Vista, Colorado. The academy was denied state funding of the new universal preschool program (“UPK”) unless it forgoes its religious character, beliefs and exercise.
Effective July 1, the UPK program gives every 4-year-old in Colorado a minimum of 15 hours per week of free preschool services for the next year. All licensed preschools in Colorado have been encouraged to join the program, but they must comply with its rules or be excluded from the funding.
Although Darren Patterson Christian Academy applied and was accepted into the UPK program, it later learned of the program’s nondiscrimination provisions involving employment decisions and gender orientation. In May, the school requested a religious exemption alongside other faith-based groups—and was denied.
“The Constitution is clear: The government may not deny participation in a public program simply due to a school’s internal religious exercise,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus.
“The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed this principle in 2017, 2020 and 2022. Darren Patterson Christian Academy has been serving Chaffee County families for over 40 years.
“Colorado officials are violating the school’s First Amendment rights by forcing it to abandon its religious beliefs—the reason why parents choose to send their kids to the school—to receive critical state funding.”
Named after a 14-year-old killed by a drunk driver, Darren Patterson Christian Academy is one of the only Christian schools in Chaffee County and values cultivating “a joyful, welcoming, Christ-centered culture.”
To be evangelistic to its community, the school welcomes all that meet its enrollment requirements regardless of their faith backgrounds or religious beliefs. Consequently, there are some families who attend the academy that do not share the Christian faith but appreciate its values.
However, to join the program, the school would have to forsake its Christian culture. In addition, the school would have to update its internal policies regarding gender orientation and its employment decisions, such as hiring staff members who do not share the same faith, altering dress code policies and changing bathroom rules.
Because the Christian school refuses to abandon its beliefs, fewer children may be able to attend. Seventeen children had already registered to attend the upcoming school year through the UPK program. Many of their families had wanted their children to go to the academy because of its religious values. Now, their tuition reimbursement is in jeopardy.
“Colorado officials are unconstitutionally forcing Darren Patterson Christian Academy to make the untenable choice of adhering to its religious beliefs and forfeiting participation in an otherwise generally available public program or surrendering its beliefs to participate equally with other preschools in the state,” ADF Legal Counsel Jake Reed said. “We urge the court to affirm that the First Amendment fully protects the school’s right to operate according to its faith and still join the state’s preschool program.”