DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado continues to face challenges to its universal preschool program.

On Thursday, the first hearing in a lawsuit arguing the legality of the state’s antidiscrimination provision was heard in a U.S. District Court.

“I’m hopeful that the judge will allow us to be in the universal school program while continuing to live out religious beliefs as a Christian school,” said Josh Drexler, Darren Patterson Christian Academy’s head of school. “We want to provide all the opportunities we can to our staff, our students and families while remaining true to our religious beliefs. The government should not threaten to exclude us from a state program or otherwise penalize us for our religion.”

Leaders of the Christian school in Buena Vista said they want to be able to participate in the state’s universal pre-K program, but they feel the state’s requirements not to discriminate are unconstitutional.

“The state promised us a universal preschool program, one that is open to religious schools and religious families,” said Jeremiah Galus, ADF senior counsel who represents the school. “But to participate with other preschools, the state is requiring Darren Patterson Christian Academy to give up its religious beliefs and practices, including their right to hire employees who share and live out its faith.”

State: Schools must ensure ‘all kids are welcome’

The state does not comment on pending litigation, but state leaders have long said discrimination against anyone because of who they are does not align with Colorado values. The governor’s office issued a statement late Thursday afternoon.

“We’re saddened to see different groups of adults attempting to co-opt preschool for their own ends and to discriminate, rather than ensuring that all kids are welcome. Voters were clear on their support for parent choice and a universal, mixed delivery system that is independently run, that doesn’t discriminate against anyone, and offers free preschool to every child no matter who their parents are. We will continue to ensure that every Colorado child and family has access to preschool, meet the needs of all learners, and will vigorously defend this landmark program in court so that even more families can benefit from preschool.”

Spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis’ office

ADF Legal also represented Jack Phillips in litigation involving his cake shop and Lorie Smith in her case about designing websites. While this case is not being heard at the U.S. Supreme Court like the others, attorneys said they are hopeful.

“We’re optimistic that we believe that we’re right, that Darren Patterson has a constitutional right to participate in government benefit programs without giving up its religious character or its religious exercise. So we are confident in our legal arguments and we’re hopeful that the district judge here will do the right thing,” Galus said.

Attorneys for Darren Patterson Christian Academy did ask for a preliminary injunction, requesting that the school participate in the program until a ruling is made. No decisions were made on Thursday.