May 2023 Church & State Magazine - May 2023

Okla. Board Says No To Formation Of Religious Charter School


The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board has for now rejected an application to create the nation’s first religious charter school.

The board voted unanimously April 11 not to approve the application filed by St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School, an institution that would be sponsored by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. However, the board acted mainly on procedural matters and did not address church-state issues in its ruling. The school can appeal.

Americans United, which has opposed the creation of the religious charter, backed the board’s move. AU supported the board because charter schools are tax-funded institutions that must by law be secular and open to all students. 

“It’s hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families than the state establishing the nation’s first religious public charter school,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “This would be a sea change for American democracy. We will say it again: We urge the board to reject any application for a virtual charter school that includes a religious curriculum or engages in religion-based discrimination.”

Laser added, “State and federal laws are clear: Charter schools are public schools that must be secular and open to all students. No public-school family should fear that their child will be required by charter schools to take theology classes or be expelled for failing to conform to religious doctrines. And the government should never force anyone to fund religious education. In a country built on the principle of separation of church and state, public schools must never be allowed to become Sunday schools. Americans United will work with our Oklahoma and national partners to defend the separation of church and state that’s promised in both the Oklahoma and U.S. Constitutions.”

In letters, memos and in-person testimony, AU provided detailed legal analysis explaining why the board should reject the application.  AU also explained why former Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor’s opinion that the state should allow public charter schools to teach religious curricula was wrong and contrary to the U.S. Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution and the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act. 

Officials at the archdiocese said they would continue to press for the creation of the school, which has the backing of Gov. Kevin Stitt (R). 

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