A lawsuit seeking to block Oklahoma from sponsoring and funding the nation’s first religious public charter school can move forward, an Oklahoma judge ruled today. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, Education Law Center, and Freedom From Religion Foundation, who represent the plaintiffs in the case, applauded today’s decision.

Judge Ogden denies nearly all of the defendants’ motions to dismiss the case

During a hearing today, Judge Richard Ogden of the District Court of Oklahoma County issued a new ruling in OKPLAC, Inc. v. Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, denying nearly all of the defendants’ motions to dismiss the case.

The OKPLAC plaintiffs are represented by AU, the ACLU, ELC and FFRF, as well as by Oklahoma-based counsel Odom & Sparks PLLC and J. Douglas Mann. The organizations issued the following statement:

“We’re pleased that the Court will allow our plaintiffs’ case to proceed. Oklahoma law is clear: Charter schools are public schools that must be secular and welcome all students. Oklahoma taxpayers, including our plaintiffs, should not be forced to financially support St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School, which plans to discriminate against students, families, and staff and indoctrinate students into one religion. Our lawsuit aims to protect public education, the separation of church and state, and all Oklahomans’ religious freedom by preventing St. Isidore from receiving state funds or operating as a public charter school.”

Plaintiffs’ motion for temporary injunction still pending

Still pending before the court is the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction to prevent St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School from operating and receiving state funds as a public charter school. In a motion filed last Friday, the plaintiffs explained to the court the importance of ensuring that no taxpayer money funds St. Isidore and that the school does not open as a public charter school during the 2024-25 school year while litigation is ongoing in their case and in a similar lawsuit filed in the Oklahoma Supreme Court by Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond. St. Isidore is, and has always been, free to open as a private religious school that taxpayers would not be forced to support.

Background

AU, ACLU, ELC and FFRF, supported by Oklahoma-based counsel Odom & Sparks PLLC and J. Douglas Mann, represent nine Oklahomans and OKPLAC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting public education, in the lawsuit OKPLAC, Inc. v. Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, filed on July 31, 2023, in the District Court of Oklahoma County. The plaintiffs object to their tax dollars funding a public charter school that will discriminate against students and families based on their religion and LGBTQ+ status, will not commit to adequately serving students with disabilities, and will indoctrinate students into one religion.

The plaintiffs include OKPLAC (Oklahoma Parent Legislative Advocacy Coalition), Melissa Abdo, Krystal Bonsall, Leslie Briggs, Brenda Lené, Michele Medley, Dr. Bruce Prescott, the Rev. Dr. Mitch Randall, the Rev. Dr. Lori Walke, and Erika Wright.

The team of attorneys that represents the plaintiffs is led by Alex J. Luchenitser of Americans United and includes Sarah Taitz and Jenny Samuels of Americans United; Daniel Mach and Heather L. Weaver of the ACLU; Robert Kim, Jessica Levin, and Wendy Lecker of Education Law Center; Patrick Elliott of FFRF; Benjamin H. Odom, John H. Sparks, Michael W. Ridgeway, and Lisa M. Millington of Odom & Sparks; and J. Douglas Mann.

Resources

Americans United is a religious freedom advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, AU educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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