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Oklahoma Supreme Court rules Catholic charter school unconstitutional

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St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, which was set to open this fall as the nation’s first religious public charter school, faced a setback when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional on June 25. The court concluded that the creation of a religious charter school in Oklahoma violates state statutes, the Oklahoma Constitution and the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

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When the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City proposed the Catholic charter school, it emphasized its mission to evangelize and required teachers to uphold the church’s values both professionally and personally.

However, Oklahoma’s Republican attorney general, Gentner Drummond, filed a lawsuit in 2023, claiming that the religious charter school violated state and federal law.

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Charter schools, although funded by public money and subject to government performance standards, operate independently from public school districts and have the flexibility to choose their own curriculum.

Under Oklahoma state law, the use of public funds for establishing a religious institution is prohibited.

The high court’s ruling clarified that St. Isidore does not dispute its status as a religious institution. Its purpose is explicitly stated as “to create, establish and operate” the school as a Catholic educational institution.

One judge on the state’s Supreme Court, Justice James Winchester, emphasized that the state would directly fund a religious school, requiring students at St. Isidore to participate in the religious curriculum. That would be in violation of the establishment clause in the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from making laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City expressed disappointment on behalf of hundreds of families who were eagerly anticipating sending their children to the charter school this fall. Despite the legal setback, they believe that “St. Isidore could still be a valuable asset to students, regardless of socioeconomic background, race or faith.”

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[LAUREN TAYLOR]

ISIDORE OF SEVILLE CATHOLIC VIRTUAL SCHOOL IN OKLAHOMA CITY WAS SET TO OPEN THIS FALL AS THE NATION’S FIRST RELIGIOUS PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL .

HOWEVER – THE OKLAHOMA SUPREME COURT THIS WEEK RULED IT  UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

WHEN THE ARCHDIOCESE OF OKLAHOMA CITY PROPOSED THE CATHOLIC CHARTER SCHOOL, IT SAID IT WOULD EVANGELIZE THE CHURCH’S MISSION AND REQUIRE TEACHERS TO ALSO UPHOLD THE CHURCH’S VALUES IN THEIR PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL LIVES.

OKLAHOMA’S REPUBLICAN ATTORNEY GENERAL FILED A LAWSUIT LAST YEAR – CLAIMING THE RELIGIOUS CHARTER SCHOOL VIOLATES STATE AND FEDERAL LAW.

CHARTER SCHOOLS USE PUBLIC FUNDS AND HAVE TO MEET GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE STANDARDS BUT ARE NOT A PART OF A PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT AND CAN CHOOSE THEIR OWN CURRICULUM. 

UNDER OKLAHOMA STATE LAW – THE STATE IS PROHIBITED FROM USING PUBLIC MONEY FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A RELIGIOUS INSTITUTION.

ACCORDING TO THE HIGH COURT’S RULING – ST. ISIDORE “DOES NOT DISPUTE THAT IT IS A RELIGIOUS INSTITUTION. ITS PURPOSE IS ‘[T]O CREATE, ESTABLISH, AND OPERATE’ THE SCHOOL AS A CATHOLIC SCHOOL.”

JUSTICE WINCHESTER WROTE “HERE, THERE IS NO QUESTION THAT THE STATE WILL PROVIDE MONETARY SUPPORT TO TEACH A CATHOLIC CURRICULUM, AND STUDENTS AT ST. ISIDORE WILL BE REQUIRED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE RELIGIOUS CURRICULUM.”

 THE COURT SAID “THE STATE WILL BE DIRECTLY FUNDING A RELIGIOUS SCHOOL AND ENCOURAGING STUDENTS TO ATTEND IT.” AND THAT “THIS STATE’S ESTABLISHMENT OF A RELIGIOUS CHARTER SCHOOL VIOLATES OKLAHOMA STATUTES, THE OKLAHOMA CONSTITUTION, AND THE ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE.”

THE ARCHDIOCESE OF OKLAHOMA CITY SAID  THEY’RE DISAPPOINTED FOR THE HUNDREDS OF FAMILIES THAT WERE LOOKING FORWARD TO SENDING THEIR KIDS TO THE CHARTER SCHOOL THIS FALL AND THEY’RE PURSUING ALL LEGAL OPTIONS IN THE BELIEF “ST. ISIDORE WOULD HAVE AND COULD HAVE STILL BE A VALUABLE ASSET TO STUDENTS, REGARDLESS OF SOCIOECONOMIC, RACE OR FAITH BACKGROUNDS.”

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