America’s public schools are required to welcome and serve all students, regardless of a student’s background, beliefs, or abilities. Yet, on June 5, 2023, Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted to approve the nation’s first religious public charter school, despite clear evidence that the school plans to teach a religious curriculum and discriminate against students, families, and employees who do not follow the school’s religious doctrines. Americans United, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, Education Law Center, and Freedom from Religion Foundation, represents Oklahoma parents, faith leaders, and public-school advocates challenging the school’s approval as a blatant violation of the separation of church and state guaranteed by Oklahoma’s constitution, laws, and regulations.

St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School stated in its application to the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board that it plans to operate “as a Catholic School” that “participates in the evangelizing mission of the Church.” This “Catholic perspective permeates all subjects” St. Isidore plans to teach, including required theology classes. St. Isidore also plans to discriminate in student admissions, student discipline, and employment on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy outside of marriage, and sexual activity outside or marriage. Additionally, St. Isidore asserts a right to discriminate against students based on disability and has failed to demonstrate that it will adequately serve students with disabilities.

St. Isidore is sponsored and controlled by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa. Though these dioceses already operate dozens of private Catholic schools, they now seek to establish St. Isidore as a public charter school to discriminate and evangelize with the authority of the state using public tax dollars. This violates numerous provisions of the Oklahoma Constitution, the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act, and the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board’s own regulations, all of which require public schools to be open to all students and prohibit the state from sponsoring religious schooling. Throughout St. Isidore’s application process, Americans United provided detailed legal analysis via letters, memos, and in-person testimony explaining why the board should reject the application.

In approving St. Isidore, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board abrogated its duty to uphold Oklahoma’s constitution, laws, and regulations. That’s why, on July 31, 2023, Americans United and our partners filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma State District Court on behalf of the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee (OKPLAC) and nine parents, faith leaders, and public-school advocates who care deeply about the separation of church and state. We requested that the court prohibit the Board from sponsoring or contracting with St. Isidore and prohibit the State from giving any funding to St. Isidore.

On September 20, 2023, the defendants filed three separate motions to dismiss the case. On October 23, 2023, we filed a consolidated opposition to those motions.

In the meantime, on October 9, 2023, the Board voted to approve a contract with St. Isidore. On January 31, 2024, we filed an amended and supplemental petition to add allegations related to the contract and to add new defendants, the State Board of Education and its members. In addition, the amended and supplemental petition adds an allegation that the defendants are in violation of a state statute that prohibits segregation of children in public schools on the basis of creed, among other characteristics. As a result of the filing of the amended and supplemental petition, the defendants withdrew their original motions to dismiss and were granted the opportunity to file new motions.

On November 14, 2023, on behalf of seven of the plaintiffs, we filed a motion to intervene in a separate lawsuit that Oklahoma’s Attorney General had filed in the Oklahoma Supreme Court on October 20 to challenge the Board’s approval of St. Isidore. Though the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied our motion to intervene, it accepted an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief that we submitted on December 27, 2023, in support of the Attorney General.

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