Public Schools

Americans United Urges Oklahoma Charter School Board To Disregard Former AG’s Incorrect Opinion On Religious Public Charter Schools

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State is urging the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board to disregard an incorrect opinion issued by former Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor that would allow public charter schools to indoctrinate their students in religion – in violation of the separation of church and state. AU’s letter, sent today, is accompanied by a 24-page memo with nearly 150 citations to U.S. Supreme Court cases, Oklahoma law, and other authorities demonstrating that O’Connor’s opinion is wrong and a radical departure from well-established law.

Americans United has been on the forefront of this area of law for 75 years, and the letter and memo showcase that expertise and experience. This church-state watchdog group urges the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board to disregard O’Connor’s opinion “and deny any applications [it] may receive to operate a charter school that provides religious education.”

State Law & U.S. Constitution Require That Oklahoma Charter Schools Provide Nonsectarian Education

O’Connor’s opinion, issued on Dec. 1, 2022, a month before he left office, wrongly claims that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution requires Oklahoma to allow charter schools that teach a religious curriculum or even indoctrinate children into a religion. Americans United refutes this mistaken conclusion, explaining, “Far from violating the U.S. Constitution, the requirement in state law that Oklahoma charter schools provide nonsectarian education is mandated by the Constitution.”

At heart, the AG opinion misunderstands the nature of charter schools. “Reclassifying charter schools as private actors would be a sea change in the law that would upend the entire educational landscape in Oklahoma. It has always been the understanding of lawmakers, the government, and charter schools themselves that they are public schools and subject to the U.S. Constitution,” AU’s letter explains. AU also notes that a 2007 Oklahoma Attorney General opinion affirmed that charter schools are “part of the public school system.”

Reports: Catholic Archdiocese Of Oklahoma City Seeks To Run Virtual Charter School

Reports indicate that the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City will apply to operate a virtual charter school. Today is the deadline for potential schools to apply for charters to the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. The board is expected to consider presentations on the applications at its meeting on Feb. 14.

If the board approves the archdiocese’s charter, it would be defying centuries of precedent and establishing the first public religious charter school in the country.

Rachel Laser: “This Would Be A Sea Change For American Democracy”

Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser said: “Americans United is proud to offer our long 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 the archdiocese’s charter. This would be a sea change for American democracy and violate the religious freedom of both Oklahoma taxpayers, who would be forced to fund a religion not their own, and Oklahoma public-school students, who could be required by charter schools to take religious classes, pray, and attend chapel. Public schools aren’t and shouldn’t be Sunday schools.

“Our public schools have suffered devastating blows at the Supreme Court in recent years. The government shouldn’t be chartering or funding any schools that teach religious doctrine as truth, sponsor prayers, discriminate based on religion, or otherwise promote religion or coerce students to participate in religious activities. We live in a religiously diverse nation, and the separation of church and state guarantees that our public schools are open and welcoming to all students. What we need right now is a national recommitment to the separation of church and state.”

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.

Press Contact

Liz Hayes
Associate Vice President of Communications
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