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OK Supreme Court rules catholic charter school contract is unconstitutional

Posted at 10:56 AM, Jun 25, 2024

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Supreme Court ruled the state’s contract with the virtual charter school St. Isidore violates state statutes, the state constitution, and the Establishment Clause.

“I think it’s a huge win,” said Debbie Veney. “We are so thrilled with the decision of the court.”

Debbie Veney is the Senior Vice President of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. She says the Court’s decision is a step in the right direction for public education.

“It means everything to be able to protect the liberties of families and students in Oklahoma who have the right to attend a public school that is designed as the constitution is intended to be free from any particular established religion and protecting their rights as citizens in this country,” said Veney.

In October 2023, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board gave the greenlight for the nation’s first publicly-funded religious charter school, Saint Isidore of Seville Virtual Catholic Charter School, in Oklahoma City.

The same month, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed a lawsuit against the board to try and stop it from being funded by the state.

Here's what Drummond said then:

Oklahoma attorney general sues over religious virtual charter school

Drummond said Saint Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School was poised to be the nation’s first tax-payer funded state-sponsored religious public charter school.

In the court’s ruling, the justices said under Oklahoma law, charter schools are public schools.

Because of that, a religious charter school violates Oklahoma statutes, the Oklahoma constitution, and the Establishment Clause, banning the government from establishing a religion.

The decision orders the state Charter School Board to rescind its contract with St. Isidore.

“There are a number of entities that are interested in blurring the lines between church and state,” said Veney.

In a statement, Lara Schuler the Senior Director of Catholic Education with the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City said,

“The educational promise of St. Isidore Virtual Catholic School is reflected in the 200-plus applications we have received from families excited for this new learning opportunity. Clearly, we are disappointed in today’s ruling as it disregards the needs of many families in Oklahoma who only desire a choice in their child’s education. We will remain steadfast as we seek to right this wrong and to join Oklahoma’s great diversity of charter schools serving all families in the state.”

Attorneys for St. Isidore have 10 days to respond.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters said this about the decision:

“It’s my firm belief that once again, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong. The words ‘separation of church and state’ do not appear in our Constitution, and it is outrageous that the Oklahoma Supreme Court misunderstood key cases involving the First Amendment and sanctioned discrimination against Christians based solely on their faith. Oklahomans have demanded school choice not religious targeting.

I agree with the dissent because nothing about the State of Oklahoma contracting for educational services for students in the form of a charter school violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and the enrollment demand at St. Isidore proves that Oklahoma parents want more choices for their kids’ educations – not fewer.

This ruling cannot and must not stand. There will be additional legal action in support of those parents and the millions of Oklahomans who believe deeply in religious liberty, and I will never stop fighting for Oklahomans’ constitutional, God-given right to express their religious belief.”

Drummond, who argued the case before the court himself, released this statement about the decision:

“This decision is a tremendous victory for religious liberty. 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. Now Oklahomans can be assured that our tax dollars will not fund the teachings of Sharia Law or even Satanism. While I understand that the Governor and other politicians are disappointed with this outcome, I hope that the people of Oklahoma can rejoice that they will not be compelled to fund radical religious schools that violate their faith.”

Gov. Stitt had this to say about the decision:

“I’m concerned we’ve sent a troubling message that religious groups are second-class participants in our education system. Charter schools are incredibly popular in Oklahoma – and all we’re saying is: we can’t choose who gets state dollars based on a private entity’s religious status.

Religious freedom is foundational to our values, and today's decision undermines that freedom and restricts the choices available to Oklahomans. I’m disappointed by AG Drummond’s attack on religious liberty and the school choice movement, but I remain hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case and grant St. Isidore the right to establish their school.”

Archbishop Paul Coakley and Bishop David Konderla released this statement:

Today’s ruling is very disappointing for the hundreds of prospective students and their families from across the state of Oklahoma who desired the educational experience and promise of St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. We will consider all legal options and remain steadfast in our belief that St. Isidore would have and could still be a valuable asset to students, regardless of socioeconomic, race or faith backgrounds.

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