EL CAJON, Calif. — A church in El Cajon says the State of California has cut its funding, preventing it from feeding the poor. That decision, according to a newly filed federal lawsuit, was made after the church refused to follow a state anti-discrimination mandate that prohibits employee discrimination and hiring based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
In its lawsuit, the Church of Compassion located on Greenfield Drove in El Cajon says unless its leaders agree to "never consider sexual orientation and gender identity in any of its employment decisions" then they will no longer be allowed to keep offering food for those in need as well as students who attend its Dayspring Christian Learning Center.
Opening up employment to all regardless of sexual orientation violates its doctrine, says the lawsuit, and forces it to oppose the "orthodox religious beliefs and practices regarding human sexuality...maintained for the past two thousand years."
Dean Broyles, attorney for the Church of Compassion and head of the National Center for Law and Policy, says California's Department of Social Services is out of step with the federal government which grants religious exemptions to schools and other organizations if the mandate is at odds with the church's religious tenets.
Broyles says the church's hiring requirements are internal and have nothing to do with who attends its daycare or who receives the help it provides to community members in need.
"Several LGBTQ+ families whose children attend the Preschool, and who understand and appreciate the Preschool’s right to inculcate religion, support Dayspring," reads a statement from Broyles. "These families are concerned about what the [Department of Social Services] has done and can testify of Dayspring's good reputation and unbiased treatment."
In a prepared statement, the church's daycare principal says the mandate has nothing to do with discrimination but instead attacks the church's core values. "Our Preschool serves all families, but we do not want the government to force us to replace our core values and the essential beliefs of our Christian faith or make us agree to adopt and express the state’s contrary beliefs,” says Kelly Wade Dayspring’s principal.
Attorney Broyles tells CBS 8 that the church has participated in California's Food Program for several years but that is over now.
“It is immoral that California is holding hungry children hostage to its draconian desire to coercively control the Church of Compassion and Dayspring’s religious beliefs and employment practices. Whom churches employ has nothing to do with effectively feeding needy kids, yet the CDSS
aggressively abused its power by forcibly imposing its new statist sexual orthodoxy mandates on our clients," said Broyles.
Attorney and constitutional law expert, Dan Eaton, tells CBS 8 that the lawsuit pits two powerful arguments against one another: the government's right to root out discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation versus the freedom of speech and the freedom to exercise religion.
"The core legal issue here is whether the State of California’s Department of Social Services is violating the church’s freedom of religion and freedom of speech by conditioning the church’s participation in a state-funded food program on the church agreeing not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in its employment policies," says Eaton.
"The church argues that the mandate would force the church to adopt a practice and convey a message contrary to its religious beliefs. The State of California believes the mandate is justified by its generally applicable policy, found in state and federal employment laws, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."
A federal judge, adds Eaton, will have to decide which will take precedence.
"A court will have to determine whether, for constitutional reasons, the state’s interest in prohibiting all forms of discrimination must yield to the extent that interest interferes with the church’s rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion."
California Attorney General Rob Bonta's Office did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit,