An attorney is calling the recent suspension of a church and preschool from a government food program a “really disturbing example…of religious discrimination.”
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Jeremiah Galus, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), told CBN’s Faithwire, the California-based Church of Compassion and Dayspring Learning Center, its preschool program, have been cut off from participating in a federal food program.
“For nearly 20 years, they have been participating in a federal food program that is run nationally by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the USDA, and run locally there in the state of California by the California Department of Social Services,” Galus said. “And this is a church and preschool that serves primarily an immigrant population.”
The attorney said many of the families are in lower income brackets, with 40% qualifying for free food under the federal government.
After nearly two decades in the program, Galus said California state officials, “following the guidance of the USDA, implemented new nondiscrimination provisions.” And there are two policy implementations that the state is purportedly imposing upon the church and school.
“It would force the church and the preschool to give up the right to hire employees who share their faith and live out that faith,” he said. “They would prohibit them from aligning their internal policies to correspond with their religious beliefs about sexuality.”
This would impact the school’s operations, requiring, for instance, the center to allow biological boys to use girls’ restrooms and other such issues. This means the church and school would have to bend Christian ideals to participate in the longstanding program.
“The church and the preschool are trying to teach children about Jesus and what it means to have a relationship with Jesus and their creator God,” Galus said. “And to do that, you need people who believe that it’s important, that understand it and are able to share that belief and articulate that belief clearly.”
The issue appears to be with California’s Department of Social Services, as the state agency is accused of failing to grant religious exemptions to the church and school.
Galus said the church and childcare center serve children and families in need because of their faith — the very facet they believe to be under attack with their removal from participation.
As a result of the Church of Compassion and Dayspring Learning Center standing by its Christian convictions, it was no longer deemed eligible to participate in the government food program and, according to Galus, these institutions are being treated as though “they’re second class.”
“The USDA is tasked with enforcing Title IX, and if you participate in the food program, you are a recipient of federal financial assistance, and that subjects you to Title IX’s requirements,” Galus said. “Title IX prohibits sex discrimination. It’s always prohibited sex discrimination.”
This poses no problem for the church, but, in 2022, the USDA reinterpreted the law to mean that “sex discrimination” also encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity.
Galus clarified that the church and preschool “serve everyone” and welcome all families to attend, including some current families who identify as LGBTQ.
“They are glad to have them there and those families understand that this is a Christian school and they’re happy with the Christian education that’s being provided,” he said. “So, there are no rights being violated here by the church or the preschool. The only rights being violated are being done by the state and federal officials.”
In March, after the initial lawsuit was filed, Dayspring principal Kelly Wade also reiterated the school serves all kids and families but won’t deviate from its religious beliefs.
“Our Preschool serves all families, but we do not want the government to force us to replace our core values and the essential beliefs of our Christian faith or make us agree to adopt and express the state’s contrary beliefs,” Wade said.
ADF has more recently filed an amended complaint and a motion for preliminary injunction and hopes to see the Church of Compassion and Dayspring Learning Center reinstated to the USDA program without compromising on biblical beliefs and ideals.
“We’re hoping the church and Dayspring are allowed back into the food program,” Galus said. “At the end of the day, we want to see children served and fed. We want families to be able to choose religious schools, to choose a religious education for their child without being discriminated against, without being excluded from government programs like this.”
The exclusion from the program is costing the church thousands each month, with Galus noting the court has scheduled a hearing on the matter for August 11.
Dean Broyles, an attorney representing the church who also runs the National Center for Law and Policy, told KFMB-TV in March that the government’s handling of the situation is deeply immoral.
“It is immoral that California is holding hungry children hostage to its draconian desire to coercively control the Church of Compassion and Dayspring’s religious beliefs and employment practices,” Broyles said. “Whom churches employ has nothing to do with effectively feeding needy kids, yet the CDSS aggressively abused its power by forcibly imposing its new statist sexual orthodoxy mandates on our clients.”
When reached by CBN’s Faithwire, the California Department of Social Services declined to comment on the case, citing pending litigation.
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