Oklahoma Supreme Court prohibits religious public charter school

The Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a ruling on Tuesday that halted the opening of the country’s prospective first religious public charter school, cutting off state funding just before the 2024-25 school year. The court mandated the Oklahoma Virtual Charter School Board to revoke its contract with St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, previously sanctioned in October 2023.  

“The enforcement of the St. Isidore Contract would set a dangerous precedent and go against the framers’ principles – risking the suppression of Oklahomans’ right to practice their religion freely without government interference,” stated the justices in a divided opinion.

Out of nine judges, six fully endorsed the majority viewpoint, emphasizing that St. Isidore would violate both the Oklahoma Constitution and the federal Establishment Clause, prohibiting the utilization of public funds to establish a religious entity.

The ruling aligns with Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s stance, who sued the school board and the charter school shortly after they formalized their agreement. By that time, the school had already commenced recruitment and student enrollment. 

Open positions at the school displayed job listings that required individuals to possess “a strong, Catholic disposition and spirit of hospitality and excellence.” Teachers were mandated to reflect the Church’s values and contribute to its mission.

During the legal arguments in April, representatives from both sides acknowledged that the school would have implemented the first faith-based curriculum in a public school setting. The principal was expected to be a practicing Catholic, and students would participate in Mass.

In the recent ruling, the judges determined that the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act, regarding charter schools as public institutions, “prohibits a charter school from adopting sectarian programs, admission policies, employment practices, and day-to-day functions.”

 

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