A Tampa, Florida religious school filed a lawsuit against President Joe Biden, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, and other federal government officials over allegations that federal government policies are discriminating against religious institutions participating in the National School Lunch Program.
Local news outlet WFLA reported that the Christian legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), is representing the Grant Park Christian Academy in the lawsuit.
The academy claimed that the federal government is “threatening… their ability to feed hungry children” which are mostly low-income, minority children in Tampa. In a 2020 Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the court broadened protections for the LGTBTQIA+ community when it comes to anti-discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity. The Biden administration issued guidance based on the Bostock decision, which allegedly discriminated against Christian schools participating in the National School Lunch Program under the auspices of Title IX, which is a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), under Biden’s direction, said it would reduce the National School Lunch Program to pre-pandemic levels. Under the pandemic changes, schools would feed every student for free for breakfast and lunch, but the reversal means that schools will not be able to feed students for free.
Because Freid is the state’s agriculture commissioner, she administers USDA programs like the National School Lunch Program and the state’s agriculture department declined to provide Grant Park a religious exemption to the USDA guidance.
Grant Park claimed that the Bostock guidance is a blatant attack on Christian schools. ADF’s representative, Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo, said, “The Biden administration is threatening to take away lunch money from low-income children simply because they attend Christian schools.” She added, “Grant Park Christian Academy is working to revitalize their historically underprivileged community, and offering children nutritious meals is a vital part of their service. The Biden administration is ignoring the law and forcing this wonderful school to make an untenable choice: violate its religious beliefs or stop providing lunches to children.”
Although Grant Park currently has 56 students enrolled for the fall 2022 semester, the school said that these students “come from families below the federal poverty level and receive scholarships to attend the private school.”
In response to the lawsuit news, the Florida Department of Agriculture issued a partisan statement, which said:
“Our office has yet to be served in what appears to be a politically-motivated attempt to distract from the fact that the DeSantis Administration and his Department of Children and Families are failing to carry out the federal nutrition programs under their authority — including SNAP E&T non-compliance and, most egregiously, once again not applying for available federal funding for the Summer P-EBT supplemental child nutrition program — by insinuating that FDACS’ administration of USDA school meal programs according to federal law somehow makes our state agency responsible for federal regulations. It’s also curious that one day after 22 Republican Attorneys General launched a clear political attack against the Biden Administration over this same federal regulation, which Florida’s Attorney General did not join in, that an entity would name Commissioner Fried and state agency staff in a similar suit that clearly is a federal matter.”
Fried is currently running in Florida’s Democratic Party gubernatorial primaries, which polls have her behind the primary frontrunner, former ex-Republican Florida governor and current Democratic congressman Charlie Crist. The winner of the gubernatorial primary will face off against popular Republican incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis.