Denver Archdiocese sues over free pre-K: The state's bigotry ban hurts our bottom line!
This is what happens when the Catholic Church can't compete in the marketplace of ideas
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In April of 2022, Democrats in Colorado (with very little GOP support) passed a law establishing free pre-school across the state beginning in 2023. Children can now access half-day programs (15 hours a week) at no cost to their parents. The governor’s office said it would save families an average of $4,300 a year and give kids a head start in their education. It’s just an incredible opportunity for families that might not have been able to afford such programs.
In order to receive funding, schools just have to follow some basic rules. For example, they can’t discriminate against students. They have to accept kids regardless of their (or their family’s) race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.
That restriction is why the Denver Catholic Archdiocese and two of its parishes are now suing state officials. They want to receive taxpayer funding without giving up their bigotry.
Their argument is that Catholicism requires them to reject students who have gay parents and staffers who are in same-sex relationships. They say they cannot recognize the existence of transgender people or even use their pronouns if they conflict with whatever was written on a birth certificate. They want to ban students from wearing the “opposite sex’s uniform” or using what they deem are the wrong bathrooms. They also want to prioritize the acceptance of kids from Catholic families over, say, Jewish ones, even though the law already permits them to accept kids from their own parishes.
But let’s all admit this is really, mostly, about their ability to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
The lawsuit said enrolling children with gay parents into an Archdiocesan school “is likely to lead to intractable conflicts” because a “Catholic school cannot treat a same-sex couple as a family equivalent to the natural family without compromising its mission and Catholic identity.”
There’s a simple solution to that, of course: Just don’t accept the state’s money.
No one is forcing the Catholic Church to participate in the program. If families want to send their kids to Bigot Factories, they have every right to do so, and no one is stopping them. The Archdiocese can just do everything it was doing before this law went into effect.
The Catholic Church knows this. Which is why they’re also arguing that the new universal Pre-K program is bad for business. Because if pre-school is free elsewhere, why would anyone give them money? And if enrollment goes down, they’ll have to charge everyone else even more! Why don’t state officials care about the Church’s bottom line, dammit?!
This is seriously what they write in the lawsuit:
By creating a program that provides “universal” funding for preschool programs, Colorado has cornered the market for preschool services.
Any providers who do not participate in the UPK program will be severely disadvantaged since they will be forced to charge significantly higher prices than the participating programs—both secular and religious—which aren’t religiously barred from participating in the UPK program.
A press release from the conservative legal group Becket added:
This ban forces parents to choose between paying out of pocket for the cost of faith-based preschool or receiving a free preschool education at any other private school in Colorado. It also hurts the ability of schools like St. Mary’s and St. Bernadette’s to compete with other preschools that can offer free preschool education.
In the marketplace of ideas, the Catholics admit, we lose… and that’s unfair.
So the rules need to change. Not their beliefs. (Never their beliefs.)
This is the epitome of broken brain religion for you: A program that would lift up families that can’t afford early education, and which could help students get a leg up on their formal schooling, is a problem for these Catholics because they prioritize their own bigotry over the needs of kids.
It’s not that the Archdiocese wants to end the program. They just want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be able to discriminate against LGBTQ staffers and kids and families while still being eligible for government funding.
It’s worth noting that when a similar predicament happened in Maine and religious schools demanded government funding that was part of a state-sponsored program, lawmakers responded by saying taxpayer money could go to religious schools as long as they didn’t discriminate. That led to most religious schools ditching the program entirely. That could be the response in this case, too.
It’s telling that there’s nothing in the Archdiocese’s lawsuit about their right to reject divorced parents or anyone who’s had an abortion, because even though those things also violate Catholic doctrine, the Church has no problem looking the other way when it comes to certain “sins.” They have their own made-up sin hierarchy.
This should be an easy case. No one is forcing the Catholic Church to do anything that violates its beliefs; the Archdiocese is just unhappy that everyone else seems to be doing pretty damn well by rejecting their bigotry and they can’t handle being left behind. But just because this lawsuit should be dismissed doesn’t mean it will be. After all, Colorado’s conservative Christians have been successful in having their bigotry backed up by the (mostly conservative Christian) Supreme Court.
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