Oklahoma’s attorney general on Friday sued to stop the nation’s first publicly-funded religious charter school.
Gentner Drummond filed the petition in the Oklahoma State Supreme Court, seeking to rescind the state’s sponsorship of the school. The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board this week signed a contract with the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City to sponsor the school.
Catholic leaders plan to open St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School and specifically sought to include religious instruction, like what is taught in Catholic private schools.
It’s viewed as a test case for publicly-funded religious education before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In his legal filing, Drummond argues the contract violates the Oklahoma Constitution and the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause. It also defies the will of Oklahoma voters, who in 2016 defeated a proposed constitutional amendment to allow public money to religious entities.
Drummond said the state’s sponsorship of St. Isidore puts at risk over a billion dollars annually in federal education funding. To receive those funds, the state agrees to comply with all federal laws and regulations. Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a charter school must be nonsectarian in all aspects.
“There is no religious freedom in compelling Oklahomans to fund religions that may violate their own deeply held beliefs,” he 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.”
Drummond said if Catholics are permitted to have a charter school, “a reckoning will follow” where the state will be faced with requests from other sectarian groups.
In response, Brett Farley, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, provided a written statement from St. Isidore’s board: “The lawsuit from the attorney general’s office employs fear and discrimination, ignores the very real successes of faith based schools in our country and attempts to pit people of faith against each other. Religious freedom for all is a cornerstone of our society; we hope that this suit will be dismissed as the thinly disguised effort that it is: a discriminatory attempt to wield control at the expense of education for those most in need.”
In a split vote on Oct. 9, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved a contract with the Archdiocese to operate the school. Three board members — Scott Strawn, Brian Bobek and Nellie Sanders — voted yes.
Chairman Robert Franklin, who voted against the contract along with William Pearson, refused to sign the contract, citing his oath to uphold the laws of the state.
In July, the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee, along with several other parents and taxpayers, filed a legal challenge over St. Isidore, asking for an injunction to stop the school from opening. A hearing in that case in Oklahoma County District Court is scheduled for Dec. 21.