Oklahoma school board approves nation’s first religious charter school

The Oklahoma Board of Education voted Monday to approve a bid to open the nation’s first religious charter school, sparking backlash and questions about the constitutionality of the move to fund religious schools with tax dollars.

Oklahoma’s statewide Virtual Charter Schools Commission meeting A 3 to 2 vote approved the plan to establish the Saint Isidore Virtual School of Seville.

After the decision, Brett Farley, executive director of the Oklahoma Catholic Conference, said, “We are very pleased that the board agreed with our claim and application for the nation’s first religious charter school.” .

“Parents continue to want more options for their children and we are committed to helping provide them,” he added.

This Catholic school journey is not over yet. Many object to the idea of ​​a charter school run by a religious organization and tax-funded along with private donations. Opponents argue that this violates the separation of church and state.

The nonprofit group Americans United to Separate Church and State Monday condemned the decision as a violation of religious freedom.

“It is difficult to think of a more explicit violation of the religious liberties of Oklahoma taxpayers and public school-going families than the state’s establishment of the nation’s first public religious charter school,” the group said. said in a statement. statementcalled the decision a “major change for American democracy.”

“State and federal laws are clear: Charter schools must be public schools, secular, and open to all students,” Americans United said. The group says it is preparing legal action.

Some religious schools receive government funding, but the new Saint Isidore School will be fully government funded. The New York Times reported.

Proponents of the school argue that charter school laws vary from state to state and that while some states do not allow religious charter schools, Oklahoma law does. Some see Monday’s approval as a victory for religious freedom.

And while school choice is popular among conservatives, even Oklahoma government officials are divided over the decision.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, Republican, Monday applauded He called the decision “a victory for religious freedom.”

“This is a triumph for religious liberty and educational freedom in our great state, and we are encouraged by efforts like this to give parents more choices when it comes to educating their children,” Stitt said in a statement.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, a Republican, said the decision was unconstitutional and “disappointing,” arguing that the approval of publicly funded religious schools violates state law.

“It is very disappointing that the directors have violated their oath to fund religious schools with our tax dollars. We have exposed ourselves to potential legal action.” Mr Drummond said.

Even those who would have thought that religious charter schools would favor the decision voiced their opposition.

“This decision violates state law and the U.S. Constitution. Because all charter schools are public schools, they must be nondenominational. It is and has always been considered an innovative public school that provides an alternative for families seeking a .

The religious charter school has already weathered some adversity as its first application was rejected in April, but the school has an opportunity to fix some of the perceived problems with its application.

And when it comes to the threat of lawsuits, schools want to embrace it rather than fear it.

“We are not surprised by the threat of lawsuits, but we will be prepared if they choose to do so,” Farley said. “This is a question that ultimately needs to be answered by a court, perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Advocates of religious charter schools are optimistic that the conservative-majority Supreme Court will be more sympathetic to their cases, especially after past rulings in favor of religious schools. there is

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