Oklahoma Governor Blasts AG’s Lawsuit against Catholic Charter School
The Sooner State’s governor is blasting his state’s attorney general for suing a Catholic charter school. Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced a lawsuit earlier this month against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board for approving what his office called “what would be the nation’s first religious charter school funded by public tax dollars,” citing religious liberty concerns.
Back in June, the Board greenlit St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School, which is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa. Drummond’s office referred to the school’s Catholic affiliation as “religious indoctrination,” arguing that by approving St. Isidore of Seville, the Board “violated 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.”
But Governor Kevin Stitt (R) is criticizing Drummond’s lawsuit. In an interview with The Daily Signal, Stitt said, “Nobody is forcing kids to go to any religious charter school. 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?” He added, “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.” The governor called Drummond’s lawsuit a “political stunt,” commenting, “He should be defending the board, but instead, he’s actively trying to join in with these left-wing groups out of California and challenging religious freedoms.”
Previously, Stitt commended the Virtual Charter School Board for approving the Catholic school, saying back in June, “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.”
Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, told The Washington Stand, “We’re very thankful for Gov. Stitt’s leadership on this effort and generally for his diligence in defending religious liberty and expanding education choice in Oklahoma. Without his leadership, much of what we’ve accomplished — and what we hope to accomplish with St. Isidore — wouldn’t be possible.”
St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School states on its website, “The Catholic Church in Oklahoma believes that parents are the primary educators of their children. The primary goal of St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School is to assist parents in the important responsibility of developing the heart, mind, and soul of their child.” The website adds, “Our statewide virtual charter school will enable students to be immersed in a robust liberal arts program that opens the student to the best of the Catholic intellectual tradition. … Our virtue-based program will help each student realize their individual gifts and talents while developing strong moral character and integrity.” The school’s contract also clarifies that no student will be denied admission on the basis of religious affiliation or lack of religious affiliation.
Farley expounded, “Our plan for St. Isidore, should the courts approve, is to open in the Fall of 2024 initially with 500 students. Our aim is to create new education options for kids specifically in our rural and special education communities who are under-served.” He added, “The overwhelming support of education choice programs in Oklahoma in recent years continues to demonstrate that parents demand more options for their kids, and the Catholic Church has a mandate to help provide them.”
While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled (in both Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue and Carson v. Makin) that taxpayer dollars can be used to fund or subsidize religiously-affiliated schools, Drummond’s lawsuit argues that Oklahoma’s state constitution prohibits the use of taxpayer funds for religiously-affiliated schools.
In a statement sent to The Washington Stand, the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma declared: “Attorney General Drummond’s lawsuit employs the language of fear and discrimination, twists the law of religious liberty beyond recognition, and ignores the very real successes of faith-based schools in our country. Sadly, he also attempts to pit people of different faiths against each other. Religious freedom for all is a cornerstone of our society.”
The statement concluded, “We are optimistic that the court will see this lawsuit for what it is: a baseless attempt to enforce exactly the kind of religious discrimination that the Supreme Court has made clear the First Amendment forbids.”
Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, commented to 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.”
She added, “Oklahoma has a generous school choice program and I’m sure many parents are spending that money in Catholic schools. Does the AG have a problem with that? Would he object to a STEM charter school offering? What about a school like the one in Alabama that specializes in LGBTQ?”
Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, noted, “Families must proactively choose to send a child to a religious charter school rather than to the local non-religious public school. The U.S. Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Supreme Court have both ruled that parent choice severs any coercive tie between state and religion.” He added, “St. Isidore will provide Oklahoma parents with even greater choice and power in education. This should be celebrated.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) announced on Friday 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.”
S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.