America’s first ever religious charter school is being taken to court by two liberal organizations in what Oklahoma’s top education official calls “religious persecution.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) announced Monday they are suing Oklahoma education officials for approving a Catholic charter school. The school itself is also named as a defendant.
But State Superintendent Ryan Walters, who is also name as a defendant, announced his intent to defend the program.
“It is time to end atheism as the state sponsored religion. 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,” Walters said in a press release.
“A warped perversion of history has created a modern day concept that all religious freedom is driven from the classrooms,” he continued. “I will always side for an individual’s right to choose religious freedom in education.”
The application for St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School was approved in June and was lauded by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt who called the decision a “win for religious liberty and education freedom in our great state.”
State Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who is rumored to have his sights set on the governor’s seat, has already come out against the Catholic charter school, arguing along similar lines as the liberal ACLU and FFRF, despite being a Republican. The AG’s predecessor, John O’Connor, previously called him a “Democrat in Republican clothing.”
Even without Drummond’s support, education reform is sweeping Oklahoma and the nation.
Recent polling from EdChoice shows 69% of Oklahoma parents support school choice.
Advocates for the new charter school celebrated increased opportunities for students.
“We are elated that the board agreed with our argument and application for the nation’s first religious charter school,” said Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma. “Parents continue to demand more options for their kids, and we are committed to help provide them.”
But the anti-religious watchdogs claim a religious school actually infringes on religious freedom.
“As the first religious public school in the nation, it could inspire copycats in other states … [and] would threaten to severely undermine public education, a cornerstone of our democracy, while infringing the religious freedom of students, families, and taxpayers,” said the ACLU’s press statement.
However, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board – which approved the application for St. Isidore – is gearing up for the legal battle.
Last week, the board hired Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative legal group, to represent the board in litigation.
ADF boasts of 15 cases won in the Supreme Court, including 303 Creative v. Elenis and Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – the case that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Defendants in the lawsuit also include the Virtual Charter School Board and its members.