OKLAHOMA CITY — Nine Oklahoma residents and a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting public education in Oklahoma filed a lawsuit today in state court to stop Oklahoma from sponsoring and funding the nation’s first religious public charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School.
The plaintiffs are 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 adequately serve students with disabilities, and indoctrinate students into one religion — all in violation of Oklahoma law and our country’s promises of the separation of church and state and public schools that are open to all. (A link to a descriptive list of plaintiffs is available below.)
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Education Law Center and Freedom From Religion Foundation represent the plaintiffs in OKPLAC, Inc. v. Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. They are assisted by Oklahoma-based counsel Odom & Sparks PLLC and J. Douglas Mann.
Approving St. Isidore’s application violated Oklahoma Constitution, state law
The lawsuit demonstrates 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. Reasons that the application was unlawful include:
- St. Isidore plans to discriminate in its policies and practices based on religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other protected characteristics. Students could be denied admission, disciplined, or even expelled if they or their family members are LGBTQ+, a different religious faith, or do not otherwise conform to certain Catholic religious beliefs.
- St. Isidore reserves the right to discriminate against students on the basis of disability and failed to show that it would provide adequate services to students with disabilities.
- St. Isidore plans to provide a religious education and indoctrinate its students in Catholic religious beliefs. The school’s application states that the school will “participate in the evangelizing mission of the [Catholic] Church” and will fully incorporate the Church’s teachings “into every aspect of the School,” including “all subjects” taught and all activities offered.
- The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City will have control over the school in violation of board regulations that require a charter school to be independent of its educational management organization.
Plaintiffs asking court to block St. Isidore from operating
The plaintiffs are asking the District Court of Oklahoma County to block (1) St. Isidore from operating as a charter school, (2) the charter school board from entering into or implementing any contracts with St. Isidore, and (3) the state from funding St. Isidore.
The plaintiffs in OKPLAC, Inc. v. Statewide Virtual Charter School Board include OKPLAC Inc. (Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee), 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. (Detailed descriptions of the plaintiffs are available here.)
A religious public charter school is ‘a sea change for American democracy’
Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United: “A school that claims to be simultaneously public and religious would be a sea change for American democracy. It’s hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families than the state establishing a public school that is run as a religious school. We’re witnessing a full-on assault on church-state separation and public education – and religious public charter schools are the next frontier. America needs a national recommitment to church-state separation.”
Additional quotes from the organizations sponsoring the lawsuit and the plaintiffs are available here.
Defendants in the lawsuit are the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board; its five members; the Oklahoma State Department of Education; State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters; and St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School, Inc.
The team of attorneys that represents the plaintiffs is led by Alex J. Luchenitser and Kenneth D. Upton, Jr. of Americans United and includes Kalli A. Joslin of Americans United; Daniel Mach and Heather L. Weaver of the ACLU; Robert Kim, Jessica Levin, and Wendy Lecker of the 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.
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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