Oklahoma’s attempt to establish “the nation’s first religious charter school funded by public tax dollars” has pitted the state’s governor and attorney general on opposite sides of the issue even though they’re both Republicans.
Gov. Kevin Stitt supports the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board’s approval of St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School as a win for religious freedom and school choice.
But Attorney General Gentner Drummond contends in a lawsuit filed Oct. 20 that the school’s planned launch online next year violates “the religious liberty of every Oklahoman by forcing us to fund the teachings of a specific religious sect with our tax dollars. … Oklahomans are being compelled to fund Catholicism.” He added, “Because of the legal precedent created by the Board’s actions, tomorrow we may be forced to fund radical Muslim teachings like Sharia law.”
In an interview with The Daily Signal, Gov. Stitt disagreed with his attorney general’s presupposition for filing the lawsuit.
“Nobody is forcing kids to go to any religious charter school,” Stitt said. “A charter school is just another option. And if a parent chooses that that’s the best option for their kids, why is the government standing in their way? We believe in religious freedom. We believe in school choice. We believe empowering parents to let them choose where they think the best education is for their kids. So, it’s that simple.”
In June, Stitt lauded the virtual charter school board’s approval of the nation’s first state-funded religious charter school, saying: “This is a win for religious liberty and education freedom in our great state, and I am encouraged by these efforts to give parents more options when it comes to their child’s education. Oklahomans support religious liberty for all and support an increasingly innovative educational system that expands choice.”
Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, told The Washington Stand, “The idea that Oklahomans are being forced to fund Catholicism by approving an online Catholic Charter school as an option for parents to select for their children is just absurd. … The only ‘religious sect’ that’s being publicly funded is the religion of atheism which catechizes via critical race theory and queer theory indoctrination in public schools across the country. Parents who complain about that are called domestic terrorists by educrats and DOJ officials. Governor Stitt has been a staunch defender of parental rights and common sense. It seems like the Oklahoma AG is out of touch with the grassroots and out of step with the governor.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced Oct. 27 that it will be defending the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board against Drummond’s lawsuit. ADF stated on its website, “People of faith should not be treated as second-class citizens. Just as non-religious parents can choose to send their children to non-religious charter schools, religious parents should be able to send their children to charter schools that align with their beliefs.”
ADF stated further that St. Isidore virtual charter school policies comply fully with Oklahoma’s non-discrimination law by admitting students of “different faiths or no faiths.”
“The government is required by the First Amendment to treat religious organizations equally,” ADF stated on its website. “By approving St. Isidore’s application, the Board is simply treating this Catholic virtual school the same as non-religious charter schools—not providing any extra benefits. Indeed, schools of any religious affiliation are free to apply for approval from the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. The Board has an obligation to treat all charter-school applicants fairly whether they are secular or religious. To do otherwise would violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.”
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