Oklahoma Supreme Court rules charter school is public, cannot skirt religion rules

 June 26, 2024

 Just over a year has passed since Oklahoma became the first state in the United States to authorize a Christian charter school, but the turmoil continues for the school.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a ruling on Tuesday, stating that the state constitution is violated in with how the schools have been conducting the education, and that the approval of the charter must be revoked, according to a report by Forbs.

There was a tidal wave of opposition when the state virtual charter school board approved St. Isidore, the first Catholic charter school in the country.

Former National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President and CEO Nina Rees was against the move.

The Ruling

In the argument against the school's certification, the plaintiff argued that charter schools are meant to be public schools and therefor “must be non-sectarian.” Rees says,

“The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City is trying to make charter schools into something they are not.”

Even the Republican Party's attorney general, Gentner Drummond, spoke out against the school . His predecessor, John O'Connor, gave the go-ahead to approve the religious charter when many believe that it was the wrong move. The idea of religious liberty is being misused by the O'Connor ruling, according to Drummond, who claims that it is being used to legitimize state-funded religion.

Major Concerns

One of the biggest concerns is that this ruling would pave the way for publicly financed religious schools if it is upheld.

Soon, he said, Oklahomans would be compelled to pay for charters that promoted religions they didn't agree with. In front of the state supreme court, Drummond was the one who filed the petition.

The court's determination that charter schools are really public schools is the meat and potatoes of its conclusion.

For the most of their existence, privately run charter schools have occupied a legal limbo, claiming both public funding and status as an entity distinct from the state, exempting them from some regulations.

The State’s establishment of a religious charter school violates Oklahoma statutes Oklahoma Constitution, and the Establishment Clause. St. Isidore cannot justify existence by invoking Free Exercise rights as religious entity.

St. Isidore came into existence through its charter with the State and will function as a component of the state’s public school system. The case turns on the State’s contracted-for religious teachings and activities through a new public charter school, not the State’s exclusion of a religious entity.

What's Behind the Change

Public schools include charter schools, according to the Oklahoma court.

It is at least possible, according to some of the school's dessenters, that St. Isidore's backers are putting their money on the Supreme Court's recent decisions to blur the line between religion and state in educational matters, such as Carson v. Makin (which upheld the constitutionality of school vouchers in Maine) and Kennedy v. Bremerton (the prayer football coach case).

However, St. Isidore was determined to be completely bound by the state constitution as a public school by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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