Progressive watchdog groups sue Okla. for approving nation's first religious charter school

Bible on a school desk in a classroom.
Bible on a school desk in a classroom. | Getty Images

A group of church and state watchdog groups have filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma officials over the state's approval of the creation of the nation’s first religious charter school.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, Education Law Center and the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed the suit on Monday in the District Court of Oklahoma County, State of Oklahoma.  

The complaint names as defendants the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, individual board members, the Oklahoma Department of Education, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters and Saint Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School, Inc.

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

The lawsuit argues that the SVCSB’s decision in June to approve the Seville Virtual Charter School contradicts “the legal framework Oklahoma has constructed to govern public schools and protect students.”

“Contrary to the Board’s regulations, St. Isidore refused to agree to comply with all legal requirements applicable to Oklahoma charter schools, including prohibitions against discrimination,” claimed the suit.

“Further, in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution and the Charter Schools Act, St. Isidore will provide a religious education and indoctrinate its students in Catholic religious beliefs.”

The complaint explains that the suit is being brought on behalf of a group of “clergy, public-school parents, and public-education advocates who object to the use of their tax dollars to fund St. Isidore’s unlawful operations.”

Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, said in a statement released Monday that the approval of St. Isidore represents “a sea change for American democracy.”

“It’s hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families than the state establishing a public school that is run as a religious school,” Laser said.

“We’re witnessing a full-on assault on church-state separation and public education — and religious public charter schools are the next frontier. America needs a national recommitment to church-state separation.”

In June, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 to approve the charter application for an online school, St. Isidore of Seville, which would be overseen by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt celebrated the vote result, saying in a statement at the time that the approval of the school charter marked “a win for religious liberty and education freedom in our great state.”

“I am encouraged by these efforts to give parents more options when it comes to their child’s education,” Stitt stated. “Oklahomans support religious liberty for all and support an increasingly innovative educational system that expands choice. Today, with the nation watching, our state showed that we will not stand for religious discrimination.”

Last year, then Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor and Solicitor General Zach West released an opinion which argued that state prohibitions against religious charter schools might be unlawful.

O'Connor and West cited recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including David Carson et al. v. A. Pender Makin, in which the high court ruled 6-3 last year that Maine's state-operated tuition assistance program could not stop parents from using the funds for schools with religious instruction.

However, state Attorney General Gentner Drummond expressed his opposition to the approval of St. Isidore in June, arguing that it “is contrary to Oklahoma law and not in the best interest of taxpayers.”

“It’s extremely disappointing that board members violated their oath in order to fund religious schools with our tax dollars. In doing so, these members have exposed themselves and the State to potential legal action that could be costly,” Drummond said.  

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More Articles