OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — The Oklahoma Attorney General has filed a lawsuit over the controversial religious public charter school, saying it violates the state and U.S. Constitutions.
Attorney General Gentner Drummond brought the suit against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board for approving what would be the nation’s first religious charter school funded by public tax dollars.
“The board members who approved this contract have violated the religious liberty of every Oklahoman by forcing us to fund the teachings of a specific religious sect with our tax dollars,” Drummond said.
“Today, Oklahomans are being compelled to fund Catholicism. Because of the legal precedent created by the Board’s actions, tomorrow we may be forced to fund radical Muslim teachings like Sharia law. In fact, Governor Stitt has already indicated that he would welcome a Muslim charter school funded by our tax dollars. That is a gross violation of our religious liberty. 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.”
Earlier this week, the chairman of the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board refused to sign the contract allowing the nation’s first religious online public charter school because it was “unconstitutional.”
Dr. Robert Franklin said he was adamant that the school, paid for by Oklahoma tax dollars, was not legal.
“I signed an oath that said I would uphold the state’s constitution. And this contract I feel violates that,” said Franklin. “It also violates the charter school law.”
In June, the board voted 3-2 to approve the application for St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and Diocese of Tulsa attempted application approval earlier this year.
“The Charter School Act is pretty clear that you cannot establish a charter school with religious affiliation or religious curriculum,” said Karen Heineman, with the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Brett Farley is the executive director of Catholic Conference of Oklahoma. He said the school would run like a Catholic school and simply be another option for parents.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma told News 4 Tuesday that they signed the contract and were not waiting on the board to move forward, stating that their next step was “to continue the process of building the school in preparation for our planned launch in the Fall of 2024.”
The lawsuit was filed with the Oklahoma State Supreme Court and says the state Constitution expressly prohibits “sectarian control” of public schools.
The suit also says the proposed school impinges on religious liberty by violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
You may remember in 2016 Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly rejected amending the state Constitution which would have allowed public money to be used by sectarian organizations.
“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.Americans United for Separation of Church and State
“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.St. Isidore of Seville Virtual School
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.”
In addition to the new lawsuit filed against the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State as well as several other groups filed a separate lawsuit in June.
“We’re really upset about St. Isidore because we’re really worried for our nation and our democracy. What’s happening with the approval of the nation’s first religious public charter school is un-American. A breach of church, state separation and the undermining of our public schools and, you know, honestly, it’s happening here in Oklahoma right now. But tomorrow it could happen everywhere, all across the country,” said the President and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Rachel Laser on Friday.
Laser told KFOR Americans United is not against faith, but it is against protecting each individuals freedom of religion.
“Our public schools are state government sort of machines really, that, you know, have a lot of power and need to uphold our country’s promise of religious freedom, which is guaranteed by our First Amendment and guaranteed by the Oklahoma state constitution. The Oklahoma state constitution actually states that public schools have to be nonsectarian, non-religious, and also states that taxpayer dollars can’t fund religion,” explained Laser.
She added litigation is part of the path to stopping St. Isidore from fully taking flight, but said Oklahomans need to project their voices.
“The people across this country, not just the people in Oklahoma, [need] to wake up to how serious these threats are, not just to church, state separation, but to our public schools and to our democracy,” said Laser. “I think religious extremists have been playing the long game, trying to take tax dollars for religious indoctrination, trying to divert tax dollars to private religious education and religious extremists. And their lawmaker allies have been emboldened by recent Supreme Court decisions. The ultra conservative majority on the Supreme Court has ruled many times in recent years to undermine church, state separation in the realm of public schools.”
Laser said she believes AU and the other groups involved have a strong case against St. Isidore.
“It’s so clear from [Oklahoma] law that charter schools are public schools. It’s so clear in our Constitution that public schools have to be non-sectarian. I think that’s why you’re seeing your Republican Attorney General say absolutely not,” stated Laser.
State Superintendent Ryan Walters released the following statement on Friday regarding the lawsuit:
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