OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — After months of warnings, Oklahoma’s Attorney General is following through on suing members of the Oklahoma Virtual Charter School Board. This comes after the board approved an application for what would become the country’s first religious charter school, which would be supported by tax payer money.
The lawsuit filed Friday afternoon said the board is violating the religious liberty of Oklahoma voters.
Attorney General Gentner Drummond said members on the board who approve the application for St. Isidore of Seville Catholic virtual school would violate their oath to uphold the Constitution.
Though even with the caution from the Attorney General, three board members still signed.
“With the exception of two of its members who actually take seriously their oath of office, three did not….three have violated their oath, and Oklahoma law,” said Drummond.
The statewide virtual charter school board voted 3-2 earlier this year, approving the nation’s first ever taxpayer-funded religious school.
Brian Bobek, Dr. Scott Strawn and Nellie Tayloe Sanders voted yes.
William Pearson and Dr. Robert Franklin voted no.
“If we proceed with this contract in violation of the constitution, federal law and state law, then we jeopardize $1.13 billion of funding from the federal government upon through which our educational system is funded,” said Drummond.
Tuesday, the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma told News 4 they signed the contract to move forward with the school and they’re waiting for the board to sign off.
“I signed an oath that said I would uphold the state’s constitution. This contract I feel violates that. It also violates the charter school law,” said Robert Franklin, the chairman of the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.
The lawsuit filed by the Attorney General claims that moving forward is impossible.
“We are prohibited from funding religious education by constitution and to we are prohibited from controlling religious entities, which we would be through the money,” said Drummond.
The lawsuit has been expected ever since the board first approved the contract.
Immediately after, Drummond announced he would not represent the state if it were sued in relation to St. Isidore.
In response, the Virtual Charter School Board hired it’s own outside legal counsel.
Multiple statements were sent to News 4 on Friday.
The American Civil Liberties Union along with other groups against the school said:
We applaud Attorney General Drummond for his efforts to protect church-state separation and public education in Oklahoma. The law is clear: Charter schools are public schools that must be secular and serve all students. St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School plans to discriminate against students, families, and staff and indoctrinate students into one religion. Allowing a religious public charter school like St. Isidore to operate would be a sea change for our democracy. Our clients filed OKPLAC, Inc. v. Statewide Virtual Charter School Board because they are committed to ensuring that our public schools welcome and serve all Oklahomans. The lawsuit filed today demonstrates that AG Drummond shares this commitment.American Civil Liberties Union
Governor Kevin Stitt wrote:
This lawsuit is a political stunt and runs counter to our Oklahoma values and the law. AG 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. His discriminatory and ignorant comment concerning a potential Muslim charter is a perfect illustration,” said Gov. Stitt. “The creation of St. Isadore’s is a win for religious and education 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.Governor Kevin Stitt
The Constitution is crystal clear on religious liberty, but that fundamental truth is lost on some people. Oklahomans hold their faith and their liberty sacred, and atheism should not be the state-sponsored religion. We should not play politics with the future of our kids through this misguided lawsuit. Oklahoma parents know what is best for their kids and deserve the most expansive system of school choice in the country so they can make the right decision for their families. The approval of St. Isidore of Seville is a landmark in the battle for educational and religious freedom, and I am proud that Oklahoma is leading the way. We will never back down.State Superintendent Ryan Walters
St. Isidore of Seville wrote:
Attorney General Drummond’s lawsuit employs the language of fear and discrimination, twists the law of religious liberty beyond recognition, and ignores the very real successes of faith based schools in our country. Sadly, he also attempts to pit people of different faiths against each other. Religious freedom for all is a cornerstone of our society. We are optimistic that the court will see this lawsuit for what it is: a baseless attempt to enforce exactly the kind of religious discrimination that the Supreme Court has made clear the First Amendment forbids. We hope that the lawsuit will resolve quickly so that St. Isidore can focus instead on its critical mission to open the door to a new and innovative learning opportunity to those families and children most in need.St. Isidore of Seville