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Lawsuit: USDA pulled food benefits from church-run child center in California because of its biblical beliefs on sex and gender

“The government is withholding food from families in need simply because their children attend a Christian preschool.”


Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit on Friday claiming that government authorities banned a church-run daycare and preschool from receiving funds used to feed low-income and migrant children because of their religious beliefs on sexuality.

Quick Facts

The amended complaint alleges that in December 2022 employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) banned Church of Compassion and its preschool and daycare, Dayspring Christian Learning Center, from the Child and Adult Food Care Program.

The food program reimburses for costs associated with providing meals to eligible children and adults. For nearly 20 years Church of Compassion had been participating in the food program and was receiving $3,500-4,500 every month. It is located in El Cajon, California, an area in which many families live below the poverty line. The church provides meals to students every day during the school year and summer.

The complaint states that two years ago, USDA posted a regulation re-defining “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity. In May 2022 USDA told all state directors of USDA programs that it now prohibited any discrimination on the basis of sex, including gender identity and sexual orientation.

Church of Compassion and Dayspring believe that the Bible is “the Sovereign Word of God.” As a school, Dayspring is an explicitly Christian organization. Teachers are required to agree to the church’s statement of faith and are required to teach children Bible stories, take them to chapel services, lead students in worship songs, and lead them in prayer. Parents who send their children to Dayspring are provided a handbook that contains Dayspring’s articles of faith and mission statement. As part of adhering to its religious purpose and beliefs, Dayspring has separate bathrooms for boys and girls, as well as separate dress codes. Teachers also do not use children’s preferred pronouns.

Dayspring serves all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and has several students from LGBT families.

The suit claims that by banning Dayspring from the program because of its biblical beliefs on sexuality and gender identity, USDA and CDSS have violated the Establishment Clause and First Amendment’s rights to religious liberty, free speech, and free association, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

ADF is asking for preliminary and permanent injunctions. The suit states:

“Defendants must be reminded that the U.S. Constitution remains the highest law in the land. The government does not have the authority to force religious institutions to compromise their deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs and practices about human sexuality, capitulate to the new SOGI Rules, or pressure religious groups and people to assimilate to conflicting sexual philosophies.”

ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus summed it up in a statement, “The government is withholding food from families in need simply because their children attend a Christian preschool.”

This is an open-and-shut case. Religious liberty cannot be infringed on by the government, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed in recent years. For example, in Carson v. Makin, the justices ruled that Maine could not prohibit parents from using tuition dollars at private religious schools because of the schools’ religious practices. “Maine’s administration of that benefit is subject to the free exercise principles governing any public benefit program—including the prohibition on denying the benefit based on a recipient’s religious exercise,” the majority stated.

Integral in that ruling were the Court’s opinions in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, in which the Court wrote that Missouri could not “expressly discriminate[ ] against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character,” and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue in which the justices concluded, “A State need not subsidize private education [b]ut once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

Also important to Carson and this case is Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, wherein the Court wrote, “[E]ducating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school.”

Another case that has distinct similarities to the USDA case is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. A suit was brought when Philadelphia officials tried to ban Catholic Social Services (CSS) from caring for foster children because of its religious beliefs on marriage and parenting. Plaintiff Sharonelle Fulton said, “As a single mom and woman of color, I’ve known a thing or two about discrimination over the years. But I have never known vindictive religious discrimination like this, and I feel the fresh sting of bias watching my faith publicly derided by Philadelphia’s politicians.”

Fulton and CSS were banned from providing a great service, motivated by their religious beliefs, specifically because of the government’s hatred for those beliefs. Fortunately, the Supreme Court slapped back, writing,

The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless it agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny, and violates the First Amendment.”

And yet, governments, who clearly know better, are blatantly refusing to follow the Constitution and the Supreme Court’s ongoing affirmation of religious liberty. In this case, the USDA and CDSS are preventing a church and its daycare and preschool from feeding children because government officials favor LGBTQ orthodoxy over Christianity.

The case is straightforward and hopefully the judge will see the government’s actions for what they are: discrimination and religious bigotry at the cost of children.

In Matthew 15, ESV, Jesus critiqued the scribes and Pharisees’ commitment to their man-made traditions rather than to obeying God and serving others, stating:

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

Those who claim to care about children and “stopping hate” but bar those who hold beliefs they detest from helping others have created their own morality — caring not for those who are vulnerable, but only for adherence to their code.

As Christians we must obey God and care for others, even if LGBTQ adherents and their allies try to stand in the way.

Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.

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