DENVER (KDVR) — Families and schools are now using free half-days of preschool here in Colorado, but one group said they are being excluded from the benefits because of their religious beliefs.

Two Catholic schools are now suing the state as a result.

The group that filed this lawsuit, Becket Law Firm, is representing the Archdiocese of Denver and argues the state program is not truly universal if not all families can participate. Gov. Jared Polis shared his thoughts on the mounting lawsuits against the program.

“I think our focus has always been: the kids first, of course no discrimination, serve everybody if you want to take public funds, and it’s great to see so many preschoolers going back to school across the state,” Polis said Thursday.

The two Catholic schools in the lawsuit are St. Mary and St. Bernadette, which serve preschool students. An attorney for the religious schools said excluding them from the public program is discrimination in itself.

“If families and parents choose to send their kids to a Catholic preschool, they won’t be able to participate in that program,” said Nick Reaves, counsel at the Becket Law Firm. “They’re not eligible for the state’s funding simply because of the school they chose, and our argument is that that’s religious discrimination.”

Polis: Public preschool ‘for everybody’

For Polis, the issue is simple: Do not discriminate, and you can have access to state dollars.

“I’m not commenting on specific lawsuits, but obviously, if you run a preschool that doesn’t receive state money, you can run it the way you want,” Polis said. “But of course, when you are publicly funded, you have to agree with the basic values: We don’t discriminate, and you can’t say parents can’t come here because they are gay or they are not married or whatever it is. When we publicly support preschool, that means preschool for everybody, every kid.”

The Catholic Church is against gay marriage. Attorneys for the two Catholic schools in the lawsuit said families attending the schools are the ones who could really benefit from the funding.

Lawyer: Not fair to force parents to choose

“Families have to choose between receiving a Catholic education and sending their kids to a Catholic school or getting a free preschool education at a secular school,” Reaves said. “And for parents who have worked hard and sacrificed to send their kids to a Catholic school, it’s not fair that Colorado is saying, ‘If you pull your kids out and go to any secular, private preschool, we’ll give you this tuition for preschool.'”

Polis did not seem surprised by this lawsuit or others that have come up, like the new lawsuit from several school districts. He said there’s a lot of money at stake with this program entering its first year. He also said other religious organizations are participating in the program.

“We care about the kids first and foremost and there are many faith-based providers that are able to play by those rules that are absolutely part of providing preschool. School districts are doing a great job as well. But if folks want to remain private and omit certain parents, they can do that but they won’t be funded for universal preschool by the state,” Polis said.