Church preschool won't be barred from gov't food program over LGBT stance after lawsuit

Unsplash/Aaron Doucett
Unsplash/Aaron Doucett

A California church and its preschool program will be included in a federal program that helps to feed the poor after initially being barred because of the church's theologically conservative stance on LGBT issues.

Church of Compassion and its Dayspring Christian Learning Center reached a settlement with government officials on Tuesday, which will allow the ministry to continue participating in the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program.

According to the settlement, the El Cajon-based preschool "will be removed from the CACFP National Disqualified List," and the California Department of Social Services will "reimburse Dayspring for its program costs for administration of the CACFP for additional months in the event the Department has not received notification from USDA of Dayspring's removal from the National Disqualified List within fourteen (14) days after the Effective Date of this agreement."

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"Dayspring agrees that it will not seek further reimbursement from the CACFP or the Department for any expenses it incurred between January 1, 2023, and the date that Dayspring is reinstated into the CACFP," the settlement continued.

"Within fifteen (15) days of the Effective Date, the Department agrees to issue guidance to CACFP participants regarding the availability of a religious exemption from the requirements of Title IX … Within fifteen (15) days of Dayspring being reinstated into the CACFP, Dayspring shall voluntarily dismiss the Action."

Church of Compassion is represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom, the National Center for Law and Policy and the Advocates for Faith and Freedom.

ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus said in a statement that the state "can't withhold food from families in need simply because their children attend a Christian preschool."

"In the name of combatting discrimination, government officials excluded the church and preschool from serving the El Cajon community based solely on their religious beliefs and exercise," stated Galus.

"While it shouldn't have taken a lawsuit to resolve this, at least now Church of Compassion can continue its vital outreach to needy children and families."

In May 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would interpret the federal Title IX prohibition on sex discrimination to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This was in keeping with the Biden administration's overall interpretation of Title IX policy.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said at the time that "USDA is committed to administering all its programs with equity and fairness, and serving those in need with the highest dignity."

"A key step in advancing these principles is rooting out discrimination in any form — including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity," stated Vilsack.

"At the same time, we must recognize the vulnerability of the LGBTQI+ communities and provide them with an avenue to grieve any discrimination they face. We hope that by standing firm against these inequities, we will help bring about much-needed change."

In March 2023, the Church of Compassion sued after the state of California cut its food program funding over the ministry's stance on LGBT issues, which included having sex-segregated bathrooms and hiring individuals who share their beliefs.

An amended complaint from June named as defendants Kim Johnson, director of the California DSS; Jessie Rosales, chief of the CACFP at the DSS; Sean Hardin, acting chief of the CACFP at the DSS; Vilsack and the USDA.

According to the complaint, the defendants barred the church and its daycare center from the CACFP after the ministry had been involved in the federal food program for around 20 years. 

"Dayspring serves all families and children, including several LGBTQ+ families who understand and appreciate the religious instruction their children receive at the Preschool and have no desire to force the Church to change its religious beliefs," read the amended complaint.

"But while the Church and Preschool serve all families, they will not teach or promote all messages."

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