Colorado parishes to appeal ruling in dispute over universal preschool program

St. Mary’s Catholic Preschool in Littleton, Colorado St. Mary’s Catholic Preschool in Littleton, Colorado. | Credit: St. Mary Catholic School

Two Catholic parishes in Colorado are appealing a June federal court ruling that granted them access to a state preschool program, arguing that though the court ruled in their favor in the matter, it did not extend them sufficient protections of religious liberty. 

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ruled on June 4 that the preschools at St. Mary Catholic Parish in Littleton and St. Bernadette Catholic Parish in Lakewood can be included in the state’s universal preschool (UPK) program even though they prioritize the admission of Catholic families.

The court found that the state had discriminated against the Catholic parishes by “creat[ing] an unworkable scheme that breaches the appropriate limits on state power,” according to the judge’s opinion.

Though part of the ruling was in their favor, the preschools are still unable to participate in the program and uphold their religious beliefs, according to a statement from Becket, the nonprofit religious liberty law firm that is arguing on behalf of the parishes. 

Ryan Colby, a spokesman for Becket, told CNA on Wednesday that “the court ruled that Catholic preschools in the Archdiocese of Denver can consider religious affiliation in their student admission and operations decisions.” 

“However, the judge upheld the part of the UPK requirements that say the preschools can’t abide by and uphold their beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said.

Nick Reaves, counsel for the case with Becket, explained that they are appealing the decision because the schools still cannot participate in the program while following their religious convictions. 

“While the district court correctly recognized that the state has no right to prevent Catholic schools from considering religious affiliation in their enrollment decisions, the court still did not permit them to participate in the UPK program while operating consistently with their Catholic mission,” Reaves said in the statement. 

In archdiocesan guidance, for instance, schools are directed “not to enroll” students if there is, in part, “a conflict between what the school teaches and what same-sex parents are teaching their child regarding human sexuality.”

In its June ruling, in contrast, the federal court ordered that equal-opportunity law “demands that participating preschools ‘provide eligible children an equal opportunity to enroll and receive preschool services regardless of ... religious affiliation, sexual orientation, [or] gender identity ..., as such characteristics and circumstances apply to the child or the child’s family.”

Becket noted last month that “any appeal from this decision would be to the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

“We look forward to vindicating our clients’ rights on appeal,” Reaves said on Wednesday.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.