A group of parents, clergy and education activists in Oklahoma have filed a lawsuit asking a state court to block the opening of the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, which could become the nation’s first religious charter school.
The group claims that St. Isidore’s will discriminate if it becomes operational and that it violates the state constitution and state law, which requires that charter schools be “nonsectarian in [their] programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations.” The state’s virtual charter board approved the school in June; it is scheduled to open in fall of 2024.
Attorneys from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, Education Law Center and Freedom From Religion Foundation are representing the group. In the lawsuit, they wrote that St. Isidore “will provide a religious education and indoctrinate its students in Catholic religious beliefs.
“Indeed, [St. Isidore’s] application states that the school … ‘participates in the evangelizing mission of the Church,’ ” the attorney wrote.
Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, one of the defendants in the suit, in June approved the Catholic Church’s application to create the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, which would use millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to operate.
“Allowing St. Isidore to operate as planned would transform Oklahoma’s public schools into tools of discrimination and religious indoctrination,” the ACLU said in a written statement.
Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, rejected the accusation and said that “Catholic schools accept all comers, so the claim that St. Isidore will discriminate is entirely unfounded.”
“We remain confident that the Oklahoma court will ultimately agree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in favor of religious liberty,” Farley added.
The Rev. Lori Walke, senior minister at Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said she joined the lawsuit because she believes strongly in religious freedom.
“Creating a religious public charter school is not religious freedom,” Walke said. “Our churches already have the religious freedom to start our own schools if we choose to do so. And parents already have the freedom to send their children to those religious schools. But when we entangle religious schools to the government … we endanger religious freedom for all of us.”
“You can’t use people’s tax dollars to promote or establish religion,” one of the plaintiffs, the Rev. Lori Walke, told The Oklahoman. “That’s what is being attempted right now.”
✱ Church officials have said they hope the case will reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
✱ Ryan Walters, (R) the state superintendent of public instruction, said in a written statement that he supports the creation of St. Isidore and that “it is time to end atheism as the state sponsored religion.”