The ongoing national debate over the separation of church and state took a significant turn in Oklahoma on Friday, as Attorney General Gentner Drummond launched a lawsuit challenging the creation of the country’s first religious public charter school.
The lawsuit, directed at the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, came after three members inked a contract for the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School, backed by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.
Drummond voiced concern over the precedent set by such a move.
“If the Catholic Church is allowed a public virtual charter school, it will open a Pandora’s box, pushing the state into the uncharted waters of directly funding every religious faction that applies,” he stated in the lawsuit.
In June, the board had narrowly greenlit the Catholic Archdiocese’s bid for the online public charter school, targeting students from kindergarten through 12th grade across the state.
In their application, the Archdiocese stressed that their objective was for the school to partake in the Church’s evangelization mission, underscoring the importance of Christian education.
This move is seen as part of a larger trend where conservative-led states have pushed boundaries, with some advocating for the inclusion of the Bible in public school curricula and others seeking to restrict books discussing race, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Oklahoma’s Constitution prevents allocating public funds or resources for religious benefits. A 2016 effort to erase this clause was defeated, with nearly 60% of Oklahomans voting against the proposal.
A collection of parents, faith leaders, and a public education nonprofit had petitioned in July to prevent St. Isidore from receiving charter school status. That case is still under review.
Governor Kevin Stitt labeled the new lawsuit as a mere “political stunt”, accusing Drummond of being blind to the principles of religious freedom. Their political rivalry dates back to when Drummond defeated Stitt’s chosen candidate in the previous year’s GOP primary.
Drummond also predicted dire consequences for Oklahoma’s education sector, saying the board’s decision might endanger over $1 billion of federal education funding that hinges on compliance with laws against publicly funded religious schooling.
“It’s not only a clear breach of our individual religious rights but also an irresponsible use of taxpayer money,” Drummond declared.