It was heralded by many as a huge first step in the school choice fight.
For the first time, a state had green-lighted a religious charter school.
But Oklahoma’s GOP Attorney General just filed suit against the first religious charter school in the U.S. for one surprising reason.
Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General has filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the approval of the United States’ first-ever religious charter school.
Anti-Catholic or pro-religious freedom?
The school, approved earlier this year in the Sooner State, was set to be a history-maker nationwide before the AG’s lawsuit threatened it.
Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed the complaint against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board in response to its June approval of St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School.
St. Isidore is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and plans to include Catholic religious instruction as part of its curriculum.
While none of that is problematic, what is, according to the AG, is that the charter school will also receive taxpayer funding.
In a statement, AG Drummond stated that “Oklahomans are being compelled to fund Catholicism.”
He also warned this could lead to Oklahomans being “forced to fund radical Muslim teachings like Sharia law.”
“As the defender of Oklahoma’s religious freedoms, I am prepared to litigate this issue to the United States Supreme Court if that’s what is required to protect our Constitutional rights,” Drummond said.
“The framers of the U.S. Constitution and those who drafted Oklahoma’s Constitution clearly understood how best to protect religious freedom: by preventing the State from sponsoring any religion at all,” he added.
A Republican split
However, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, who is also a Republican, disagreed and called the Attorney General’s lawsuit nothing more than a “political stunt.”
“Drummond seems to lack any firm grasp on the constitutional principle of religious freedom and masks his disdain for the Catholics’ pursuit by obsessing over non-existent schools that don’t neatly align with his religious preference,” Stitt said in a terse statement.
“The creation of St. Isadore’s is a win for religious and educational freedom in Oklahoma. We want parents to be able to choose the education that is best for their kids, regardless of income. The state shouldn’t stand in the way.”
Last year, then-Attorney General John O’Connor and Solicitor General Zach West released an opinion arguing Oklahoma’s prohibitions against faith-based charter schools are most likely unlawful given recent U.S. Supreme Court litigation.
They cited the High Court’s 6-3 decision in David Carson et al. v. A. Pender Makin, in which the High Court ruled that Maine’s state-operated tuition assistance program couldn’t bar parents from using the funds for religious schools.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the majority opinion, said, “We have repeatedly held that a State violates the Free Exercise Clause when it excludes religious observers from otherwise available public benefits.”
“As noted, a neutral benefit program in which public funds flow to religious organizations through the independent choices of private benefit recipients does not offend the Establishment Clause,” wrote Roberts.
“Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise.”
Following the Court’s decision and the opinion of O’Conner and West, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 to approve the charter application for St. Isidore.
Classes at the virtual school are slated to begin in the fall of 2024.
Radical leftist groups led by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Education Law Center, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit against state school officials just a month later.
Rachel Laser, President and CEO of Americans United, said, “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 run as a religious school.”
Now, it is a waiting game to see which side prevails and what will happen to the religious charter school movement nationwide.
Read All About It will keep you up-to-date on any developments to this ongoing story.