OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Current Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond is reversing his predecessor’s opinion on charter schools run by private religious organizations, saying the opinion “misuses the concept of religious liberty by employing it as a means to justify state-funded religion.”
In early December, AG John O’Connor issued an official opinion on the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City’s proposed religious virtual charter school after a request from Rebecca Wilkinson, the executive director of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.
In the opinion, O’Connor said the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act is unconstitutional and he did not believe the U.S. Supreme Court would agree that “a state should be allowed to discriminate against religiously affiliated private participants who wish to establish and operate charter schools in accordance with their faith alongside other private participants.”
Now, Drummond has sent a letter to Wilkinson notifying her of the opinion’s withdrawal.
“Religious liberty is one of our most fundamental freedoms,” Drummond wrote. “It allows us to worship according to our faith, and to be free from any duty that may conflict with our faith. The Opinion as issued by my predecessor misuses the concept of religious liberty by employing it as a means to justify state-funded religion.”
He noted in the letter that charter schools are public schools that receive public funding, a position that is consistent with current state law and the Oklahoma Constitution.
Drummond said the former Attorney General’s opinion incorrectly concluded that Oklahoma taxpayer dollars could be tapped to fund religious charter schools and cautioned that approval of an application that is overtly religious in its teachings and operations will set a precarious precedent.
“While many Oklahomans undoubtedly support charter schools sponsored by various Christian faiths, the precedent created by approval of the … application will compel approval of similar applications by all faiths,” Drummond wrote. “I doubt most Oklahomans would want their tax dollars to fund a religious school whose tenets are diametrically opposed to their own faith. Unfortunately, the approval of a charter school by one faith will compel the approval of charter schools by all faiths, even those most Oklahomans would consider reprehensible and unworthy of public funding.”
Read the full letter below:
State Superintendent Ryan Walters issued the following statement in response:
Oklahoma parents should have the choice to send their children to schools of faith. It’s disappointing that the AG opinion has reversed a needed and positive direction to allow religious charter schools in Oklahoma. My administration will do everything possible to promote the freedom of choice that parents should have in choosing their child’s education.Ryan Walters
Just last week, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and Diocese of Tulsa presented their concept for the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School to the charter school board.
If approved, the school would have around 400 to 500 students in its first year and would open in the Fall of 2024 – as long as litigation didn’t not hold up the process. Both the church and opposing organizations said they would fight this all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.