Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond (R) announced Oct. 20 that his office has filed a lawsuit to stop the state from sponsoring and funding the nation’s first religious public charter school.
Americans United, which is challenging creation of the school in a separate lawsuit filed in state court, welcomed the new litigation.
“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 media statement.
He added, “There is no religious freedom in compelling Oklahomans to fund religions that may violate their own deeply held beliefs. 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.”
Drummond criticized the move for jeopardizing public education.
“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.”
Drummond’s lawsuit, Drummond v. Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, was filed in the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
AU’s lawsuit was filed on July 31 on behalf of faith leaders, public school parents and public education advocates who object to their tax dollars funding a public charter school that will discriminate against students and families based on their religion and LGBTQ+ status, fail to serve disabled students adequately and indoctrinate students in one particular religion.
The lawsuit asserts that creation of the school, called St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, is a violation of Oklahoma law and our country’s promises of separation of church and state and public schools open to all.
Organizations joining AU in the lawsuit include the American Civil Liberties Union, Education Law Center and Freedom From Religion Foundation. The groups issued a statement supporting Drummond’s legal action.
“We applaud Attorney General Drummond for his efforts to protect church-state separation and public education in Oklahoma,” the statement said. “The law is clear: Charter schools are public schools that must be secular and serve all students. St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School plans to discriminate against students, families, and staff and indoctrinate students into one religion. Allowing a religious public charter school like St. Isidore to operate would be a sea change for our democracy.
“Our clients filed OKPLAC, Inc. v. Statewide Virtual Charter School Board because they are committed to ensuring that our public schools welcome and serve all Oklahomans. The lawsuit filed today demonstrates that AG Drummond shares this commitment,” the statement added.
The lawsuit brought by AU and its allies charges that the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board violated the Oklahoma Constitution, the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act, and the board’s own regulations when it approved St. Isidore’s application for charter-school sponsorship on June 5, 2023.
On Nov. 14, several of the plaintiffs in the legal challenge sponsored by AU and its allies filed a legal document seeking the right to join the attorney general’s lawsuit.
For more information, see “Not OK!” in the September 2023 issue of Church & State.