Church Wins Settlement: Barred From Lunch Program For Beliefs

California state officials have agreed to settle with the Church of Compassion and Dayspring Christian Learning Center for nearly $200,000 after attempting to exclude the church from the state’s preschool lunch program. The settlement comes after a lawsuit filed by the church, the center and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in June 2023.

The legal action alleged that officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Social Services prevented their participation in the “Child and Adult Food Care Program” due to their religious beliefs on gender and sex.

The settlement agreement, filed this week by ADF and state officials, mandates $30,000 for meals paid out of pocket due to the absence of state funding and $160,000 for attorney’s fees.

Jeremiah Galus, senior counsel for ADF, commented, “In the name of combating discrimination, government officials excluded the church and preschool from serving the El Cajon community based solely on their religious beliefs and exercise. While it shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit to resolve this, at least now, the Church of Compassion can continue its vital outreach to needy children and families.”

The Dayspring Christian Learning Center had participated in the USDA’s program for nearly two decades until 2021, when the department changed its rules. The new regulations required all participants to commit to non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, in May 2023, the department mandated state directors of USDA’s food and nutrition service programs to prohibit “discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.”

The lawsuit stated that the Church of Compassion and Dayspring Christian Learning Center failed to meet these new requirements for the 2022-2023 school year due to their beliefs on “human sexuality” and their refusal to “use any child or employee’s ‘preferred’ pronouns that do not correspond to biological sex.”

ADF argued that the department and state officials deliberately discriminated against the church and the learning center based on their faith, violating the First Amendment.

Galus stated in the press release, “The government can’t withhold food from families in need simply because their children attend a Christian preschool. The Constitution protects the right of the Church of Compassion and its preschool to operate according to the dictates of their faith.”

In a society that upholds principles of equality and individual freedoms, it is alarming to observe situations in which innocent children are denied food due to their religious beliefs.

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