(The Daily Signal) – Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is criticizing a lawsuit filed by his state’s attorney general against the nation’s first religious charter school as a “political stunt.”
“Nobody is forcing kids to go to any religious charter school,” Stitt said in a phone interview Monday with The Daily Signal. “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?”
“We just think this is a no-brainer,” he added, critiquing “radical groups” for “suing and coming after religious freedoms and education freedom because they want to try to lock kids into a ZIP code school, even if it’s not the best outcome for them.”
The lawsuit, led by the state’s Republican attorney general, challenges the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board’s vote to approve the authorization of funds for St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, the nation’s first religious charter school.
“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,” Stitt said in June following news of the board’s approval.
But on Friday, state Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed the lawsuit with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, claiming that funding the school would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment and that the Constitution does not allow for “sectarian control” of public schools.
“Today, Oklahomans are being compelled to fund Catholicism,” Drummond said in a statement. “Because of the legal precedent created by the Board’s actions, tomorrow we may be forced to fund radical Muslim teachings like Shariah law. In fact, Governor Stitt has already indicated that he would welcome a Muslim charter school funded by our tax dollars.”
“That is a gross violation of our religious liberty,” he said. “As the defender of Oklahoma’s religious freedoms, I am prepared to litigate this issue to the United States Supreme Court, if that’s what is required to protect our constitutional rights.”
Stitt told The Daily Signal on Monday that he finds it a “head-scratcher” why the state’s attorney general, a fellow Republican, is taking that stand.
“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,” the governor said.
“We believe in religious freedom,” Stitt said. “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.”
In a statement on its website, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School emphasizes that the Catholic Church believes parents are “the primary educators of their children.” The school boasts that it offers a virtue-based “robust liberal arts program” that “opens the student to the best of the Catholic intellectual tradition.”
Students who previously had limited access to Catholic schools can now enroll with St. Isidore’s “rigorous virtual program scaled for student success with quality curriculum materials” beginning in spring 2024.
“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 school’s website says. “The St. Isidore Catholic Virtual School envisions a learning opportunity for all students whose parents desire a quality Catholic education for their child, regardless of where they live in Oklahoma.”