Americans United for Separation of Church and State is urging the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board to reject a request from the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City to create the nation’s first religious public charter school, which would be a flagrant violation of Oklahomans’ religious freedom. In testimony before the board today, and in two recent letters and a detailed legal memo, Americans United’s legal experts explained why a former attorney general’s opinion that the state should allow public charter schools to indoctrinate students in religion is wrong and violates the separation of church and state.
AU Senior Litigation Counsel Kenneth Upton Testifies In Oklahoma
Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Kenneth Upton, a native of Oklahoma and an Oklahoma City University School of Law alum, testified at the board’s meeting today to summarize AU’s detailed legal analysis that former AG John O’Connor’s opinion misinterprets the nature of charter schools and is a radical departure from well-established law that defines them as public schools that must provide secular education and be open to all students.
Not only do the U.S. Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution and the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act prohibit the board from creating a religious public charter school, but AU further explained additional ways in which the archdiocese’s request to form the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School fails to comply with state and federal law.
“Oklahoma charter schools are prohibited from teaching religion, sponsoring prayer, discriminating based on religion, or otherwise promoting religion or coercing students to take part in religious activities,” Upton testified to the board. “Yet St. Isidore makes clear in its application that it intends to do all of these things – running the school ‘as a Catholic School,’ which they make clear is a ‘place of evangelization.’ … We urge that you deny the application. This would both fulfill your duty to uphold the Constitution and protect the religious freedom of students, families, and all Oklahomans.”
(Upton’s testimony can be viewed at this link, at about the 35-minute mark.)
“Establishing The Nation’s First Religious Public Charter School Would Be A Sea Change”
Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, said: “Establishing the nation’s first religious public charter school would be a sea change for American democracy and violate the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school students. No one should be forced to fund a religion not their own. And no public-school student should be required by charter schools to take religious classes, pray, or attend chapel. Public schools aren’t and shouldn’t be Sunday schools. Americans United is proud to offer our long-held expertise to Oklahoma and stands ready to defend the Constitution if the charter school board wrongly approves applications from any school that would impose religion on students, including St. Isidore.”
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.
Associate Vice President of Communications