OKLAHOMA CITY (Oct. 20, 2023) – Attorney General Gentner Drummond today filed 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.
On June 5, the Board voted 3-2 to approve an application for St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School even though the school’s sponsor, the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, has emphasized that religious indoctrination will play a prominent role.
Although the Office of the Attorney General had cautioned board members that approving the application would violate their oaths to uphold the state and U.S. constitutions, three members this week signed the contract for St. Isidore.
“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.”
Filed with the Oklahoma State Supreme Court, the lawsuit notes that the state Constitution expressly prohibits “sectarian control” of public schools. The litigation also argues that the would-be school impinges on religious liberty by violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Drummond said these constitutional protections ensure religious liberty, preventing a scenario in which Muslim Oklahomans would be forced to fund Christian and Jewish schools, Jewish Oklahomans would be forced to fund Christian and Muslim schools, and Oklahomans of no faith would be forced to fund religious schools for all faiths.
“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.”
In 2016, Oklahoma voters soundly rejected amending the Constitution to let public money be applied to sectarian organizations. Now, the offending board members are seeking to undo the will of the people by forcing Oklahoma tax revenue to fund religious teaching.
The lawsuit points out that the matter is particularly urgent for action by the Court. Proceeding with the nation’s first-ever, publicly funded religious charter school puts at risk more than $1 billion in federal education dollars that Oklahoma receives each year. To receive such funds, states must ensure compliance with applicable laws, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which clearly prohibits a religious public charter school.
“Oklahomans know all too well that our public schools face a slew of serious challenges,” Drummond said. “Given that reality, it is unconscionable that we would jeopardize desperately needed education dollars for the sake of a blatantly misguided endeavor.”
Taxpayers deserve much better, he said.
“Not only is this an irreparable violation of our individual religious liberty, but it is an unthinkable waste of our tax dollars,” said Drummond. “At a time when Oklahoma students underperform their peers across the country in every subject, why would we spend one penny of our tax dollars educating them on Catholicism, Sharia law or any other religious teaching? I would prefer we focus on reading proficiency so they can read the Bible at home with their family. That’s where religion is best taught: in homes and in churches, with the loving guidance of parents and pastors.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Gov. Stitt made the remarks referenced above at a Feb. 24, 2023, news conference. It begins at the 5:10 mark on a video on the Governor’s YouTube page. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JdVTrKEI0s)