The Newsom Administration’s California Department of Social Services tried but failed to force an El Cajon Christian preschool to abandon its religious beliefs on sexuality and gender or be kicked out of participating in a federally funded USDA food program. After the church filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, Attorney General Rob Bonta’s Justice Department refused to defend the state’s actions and settled for nearly $200,000.
“This is a major victory for religious liberty,” said Greg Burt, vice president of the California Family Council. “The state should not discriminate against churches and other religious non-profits because they won’t abandon their biblical beliefs. Newsom’s officials tried to illegally stop this church from showing the love of Jesus to poor immigrant families. Fortunately, the Constitution protects people of faith against government overreach like this.”
Attorneys for the Church of Compassion and its Dayspring Christian Learning Center were represented by the National Center for Law and Policy, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Advocates for Faith and Freedom. They filed a lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction against the Biden administration and California state officials last year, challenging the suspension of the Church’s preschool from a federal food program due to their beliefs about human sexuality.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Child and Adult Food Care Program nationally, provides funding to states including California. After the Biden administration expanded the definition of “sex” in Title IX to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity, California’s Department of Social Services implemented new mandates. But these new rules restricted religious organizations from participation in the food program if their orthodox biblical views on human sexuality affected they way they operated their church or ministry.
The preschool was abruptly removed from the Food Program on December 29, 2022, when the California agency mistakenly thought it could enforce compliance with the sexual orientation and gender identity “non-discrimination” provisions against religious institutions. The California agency insisted that both the church and the preschool revise all their policies and practices to conform with this new directive, not merely their food services. In an attempt to discipline the preschool, California added the school to the National Disqualified List, effectively blocking their access to government funding. Nonetheless, the church remained resolute and did not yield to the state’s demands.
The sweeping mandates would have required the church and preschool overhaul their hiring policies, restroom regulations, dress codes, and pronoun use to align with the government’s updated definitions. Despite warnings from the National Center for Law & Policy that such actions were a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, California moved forward with the withdrawal of Food Program funds from the preschool.
“Ironically, in the name of combatting discrimination, government officials have excluded the church and preschool from serving the El Cajon community based solely on their religious beliefs and exercise,” said senior counsel Jeremiah Galus. “This is antithetical to the First Amendment’s promise of religious freedom and only hurts needy families and children.”
Attorney General Rob Bonta’s staff wisely quickly waved the white flag of surrender deciding to settle the case before the court even had an opportunity to rule on the motion for preliminary injunction.
The settlement reinstated Dayspring in the Food Program, reimbursed suspended funds, removed the preschool from the National Disqualified List, and required the California to issue clear guidance regarding the existence of exemptions for religious institutions in California’s food programs. The California agency agreed to pay $160,000 in legal fees….