Lawsuit against OK publicly funded religious school

This approval could lead to a slippery slope of unconstitutional funding and authorizations.
Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond, along with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, filed a lawsuit against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board on Oct. 20, 2023, following the board’s majority approval in June of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma’s application to establish a public, online charter school: St. Isidore of Seville. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a nonprofit organization that supports the public charter school movement, released a statement Friday in support of Drummond’s challenge. The OSVCSB had previously rejected its initial application two months prior.

The school’s vision, according to the Archdiocese, states that it “participates in the evangelizing mission of the Church and is the privileged environment in which Christian education is carried out.” This school, the lawsuit claims, will “provide a religious education and indoctrinate its students in Catholic religious beliefs.” This is in line with similar claims made against efforts to restore religious practices aligning with Christian beliefs in public schools such as teaching the Bible, banning books about sexuality and race and displaying the Ten Commandments in classrooms.

Charter schools, although independently run, still use public funds. The approval of St. Isidore is one that Drummond claims is unconstitutional on both the state and federal levels. Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution states that “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion…” On the other hand, proponents of the school, including Oklahoma Governorgovernor Kevin Stitt, are eager for children in rural areas to have the ability to gain an education that aligns with the religious values of their parents. Brett Farley, a board member from St. Isidore, claims that it is unconstitutional to prevent a school from accessing public funds on the basis of its religious views, citing Supreme Court rulings Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue and Carson v. Makin — two cases that ruled the prevention of public funds through taxpayer dollars or tuition assistance in order to pay for religious schools was unconstitutional.

Although this current lawsuit is on behalf of Oklahoma’s Attorney General, this is not the first lawsuit that has been filed against the approval of the school. In August, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil organizations filed a lawsuit against the OSVCSB on the grounds that St. Isidore would be unconstitutional and discriminatory. They argue that taxpayers’ money should not be used to fund religious entities. Parents and others in the community who identify as religious and non-religious have both stated that the public funding of a religious school is discriminatory. Bruce Prescott, a retired Baptist minister, weighed in on the issue saying that “Religious schools — like houses of worship — should be funded through voluntary contributions from their own membership, not money extracted involuntarily with state taxes from members of a religiously diverse community.”

Drummond also cites the mandated Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, specifically Title 3, Section B, which states that “Public schools may not provide religious instruction, but they may teach about religion and promote religious liberty and respect for the religious views (or lack thereof) of all.” He argues that, if Oklahoma establishes a publicly funded Catholic institution, the state could lose more than $1 billion in federal education funds provided by the government in order to comply with the act.

Sources have sought comment from the OSVCSB, but the board has stated that they “do not comment on pending litigation.” Another source sought comment from the St. Isidore school board, and they responded saying that “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.”

Post Author: Hannah Moua