Oklahoma attorney general files lawsuit against nation’s first religious charter school

virtual online school Credit: mangpor2004/Shutterstock

The attorney general of Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit against the nation’s first religious charter school, claiming its establishment violates the state’s religious liberty protections.

State Attorney General Gentner Drummond, a Republican, announced the lawsuit in a press release on his website on Oct. 20. He filed the challenge in the Oklahoma State Supreme Court.

The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board had earlier this month approved the contract of St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. The board in June had approved the school’s application, with this month’s contract approval clearing another hurdle for the school’s projected opening next year.

Charter schools are special publicly funded education institutions; the National Charter School Resource Center defines a “charter school” as a public “school of choice,” one that remains “publicly accountable” while still retaining autonomy in how it is run and managed.

In his press release, Drummond said the contract approval “violated the religious liberty of every Oklahoman” by forcing state residents to fund “the teachings of a specific religious sect with our tax dollars.”

“Today, Oklahomans are being compelled to fund Catholicism,” Drummond said. “Because of the legal precedent created by the board’s actions, tomorrow we may be forced to fund radical Muslim teachings like Sharia law.”

Drummond’s lawsuit argues that state laws and regulations “strictly prohibit the sponsorship of a sectarian virtual charter school.”

Drummond in the suit declared himself “duty bound to file [the lawsuit] to protect religious liberty and prevent the type of state-funded religion that Oklahoma’s constitutional framers and the founders of our country sought to prevent.”

The attorney general’s office further argued that the state risks losing more than $1 billion in education dollars from the federal government. Those funds are contingent upon “compliance with applicable laws” regarding religious establishments.

The charter school “clearly violates the Establishment Clause and must be stopped,” the lawsuit states. It asks the court to “correct the board’s unlawful actions.”

In a statement provided to CNA, the Board of St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School said the 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.

"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," the statement said. "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.”

Drummond’s lawsuit follows an earlier suit by several Oklahoma citizens and interest groups to head off the Catholic school’s funding by the state. 

The charter board had previously rejected St. Isidore’s application in April before ultimately approving it in June.

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