Oklahoma attorney general files lawsuit to overturn Catholic charter school approval
Gentner Drummond asked the state Supreme Court to intercede
The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board meets Oct. 9, 2023, at the Oklahoma History Center where it voted 3-2 to approve a contract to found the first religious charter school in the nation. Attorney General Gentner Drummond sued the board on Friday to overturn the contract. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)
OKLAHOMA CITY — Attorney General Gentner Drummond has asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to overturn the state’s approval of the first religious charter school in the nation.
Drummond filed a lawsuit on Friday with the Court against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. He urged justices to intercede as the Catholic virtual charter school prepares to open next year.
The attorney general said members of the board violated their oaths to uphold the state and U.S. constitutions when they signed off on a charter contract to establish St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School.
“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 in a statement.
Board members voted 3-2 in favor of the contract during an Oct. 9 meeting. Their attorney, designated to handle media inquiries, did not return a request for comment before publication Friday.
The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa have said the school, though open to students of all backgrounds and faiths, will teach and operate in accordance with Catholic doctrine.
Drummond contended St. Isidore of Seville could open a floodgate of other religious groups seeking public education funds.
“Because of the legal precedent created by the Board’s actions, tomorrow we may be forced to fund radical Muslim teachings like Sharia law,” he said. “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.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt has been an ardent supporter of the Catholic charter school. He called the lawsuit a “political stunt.”
Stitt said Drummond’s comment on the possibility of a Muslim charter school is “discriminatory and ignorant.”
“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,” Stitt said in a statement.
St. Isidore of Seville’s governing board hopes the lawsuit will resolve quickly so the school can focus on opening its doors, the board said in a statement shared by one of its members, Brett Farley. The Catholic school board called the lawsuit a baseless attempt to enforce religious discrimination.
“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,” the board stated. “Sadly, he also attempts to pit people of different faiths against each other. Religious freedom for all is a cornerstone of our society.”
Drummond’s lawsuit contends spending taxpayer dollars on a religious charter school would violate state and federal law, which prohibit public schools from promoting a particular religion. Such a violation could prompt the federal government to withhold the $1 billion it provides to Oklahoma schools, he said.
St. Isidore of Seville already faces another legal challenge in Oklahoma County District Court.
A group of parents, faith leaders and public education advocates filed a separate lawsuit in July against the school, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and state Superintendent Ryan Walters.
Leading the case are attorneys from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Education Law Center and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“We applaud Attorney General Drummond for his efforts to protect church-state separation and public education in Oklahoma,” the organizations said in a joint statement Friday. “The law is clear: Charter schools are public schools that must be secular and serve all students.”
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools also voiced its support for Drummond’s case and said it “vehemently opposes” St. Isidore of Seville’s approval.
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