© 2024 KOSU
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Oklahoma lawsuit threatens to derail nation's first publicly funded religious school

Board Chairman Robert Franklin speaks to the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board at its April 11 meeting.
Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma
Board Chairman Robert Franklin speaks to the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board at its April 11 meeting.

A lawsuit threatens to derail what would be the nation’s first publicly funded religious school, St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Catholic Charter School.

The application for St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School was approved in June by Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. But ever since the application came to light, the school has faced looming legal challenges on the horizon.

Monday, nine Oklahomans and Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee — a nonprofit public school advocacy group — came together to file a lawsuit in Oklahoma County’s District Court against the charter school board for its decision, represented in part by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union.

At issue are concerns of discriminatory practices, such as students being treated differently for their religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability — as well as not providing adequate services for students with disabilities. The suit also lists concerns of student indoctrination, citing language from the school’s application, which says St. Isidore would be “evangelizing [the] mission of the Church.”

“The very idea of a religious public school is a constitutional oxymoron,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Charter schools, like all public schools, must be open to all students, and they must be free from religious indoctrination. St. Isidore will be neither.”

The suit also refers to an improper management structure headed by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, which would violate board regulations.

Plaintiffs are asking the court to step in to block St. Isidore from operating as a charter school, stop the charter school board from entering into or implementing any contracts and prevent the state from funding St. Isidore.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, issued a statement:

“It is time to end atheism as the state sponsored religion,” Walters said. “Suing and targeting the Catholic Virtual Charter School is religious persecution because of one’s faith, which is the very reason that religious freedom is constitutionally protected. A warped perversion of history has created a modern day concept that all religious freedom is driven from the classrooms.”

Questions still surround the legitimacy of the school board’s decision to approve St. Isidore’s application — brand-new board appointee Brian Bobek wasn’t eligible to vote at that time, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Without Bobek’s vote, the motion wouldn’t have passed.

The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board made headlines recently for voting to hire as its legal representation the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

* indicates required

Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
KOSU is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.
Related Content