The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 to approve using state funds to support a new Catholic school this week. One of the board members voting “yes” was installed to their post last Friday, according to Tulsa World.

The board’s actions began creating the first religious charter school supported by taxpayer dollars in the United States. The online school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, will be managed and operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa.

Oklahoma’s previous Attorney General, John O’Connor, issued a non-binding 15-page opinion in December 2022 suggesting that Oklahoma’s restriction of taxpayer funds from being used for religious schools would most likely be found unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court.

Education Week reported, “O’Connor had concluded that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions authorizing the inclusion of religious schools in choice programs such as tax credits for scholarship donations, and tuition assistance meant that the high court would likely not ‘accept the argument that, because charter schools are considered public for various purposes, that a state should be allowed to discriminate against religiously affiliated private participants who wish to establish and operate charter schools.’”

St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School’s application asked for $2.5 million to serve a potential 500 students in the first year. That will be $2.5 million taken away from public schools to support private religious education.

O’Connor’s successor, Gentner Drummond, withdrew the opinion earlier this year, stating, “Religious liberty is one of our most fundamental freedoms.”

Drummond continued: “It allows us to worship according to our faith, and to be free from any duty that may conflict with our faith. The opinion as issued by my predecessor misuses the concept of religious liberty by employing it as a means to justify state-funded religion.”

While some Christian conservatives, such as Oklahoma’s State Superintendent Ryan Walters, praised the board’s decision, other politicians and faith leaders criticized its actions, characterizing them as unconstitutional and a direct violation of the Establishment Clause.

After the 3-2 vote in favor of funding St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, Drummond reiterated his opinion that this decision was improper. “The approval of any publicly funded religious school is contrary to Oklahoma law and not in the best interest of taxpayers,” he said.

“It’s extremely disappointing that board members violated their oath in order to fund religious schools with our tax dollars,” Drummond said. “In doing so, these members have exposed themselves and the State to potential legal action that could be costly.”

Clark Frailey, executive director for Pastors for Oklahoma Kids, commented: “By authorizing a public school that is explicitly affiliated with a particular religion, Oklahoma is endorsing that religion and entangling the government in religious affairs.”

“In addition,” Frailey continued, “the proposed school is to be funded by taxpayer dollars. This clearly misuses public dollars, as it would fund religious indoctrination of children.”

Historically, Oklahoma has been notoriously guilty of using taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate children with religious doctrines. Many times, Good Faith Media has called attention to the misguided and violent actions occurring at Chilocco Indian Agricultural Boarding School.

Thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families and provided “Christian” education using taxpayer funding. Hiding behind a compassionate mission to educate Indigenous children, the actual objective was to assimilate them into white Protestant doctrines.

While no one suggests the Oklahoma Catholic Diocese is following this model, the dangers of using taxpayer dollars are ominous. Besides taking precious funding away from public education to fund private religious charters, using taxpayer money violates the religious liberty of others not wanting to support religious teachings.

Should taxpayers be forced to support religious teachings contradictory to their belief systems? Will there be any oversight of the use of taxpayer money used at religious schools?

Like  public schools, do religious schools have to accept all students or can they discriminate? Will religious schools need curriculum to be approved? If so, who decides? Can any religious sect apply for funding?

Americans United for Separation of Church and State responded, “It’s hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families than the state establishing the nation’s first religious public charter school.”

AU went on to point out the unconstitutionality of the action: “State and federal law are clear: Charter schools are public schools that must be secular and open to all students. No public-school family should fear that their child will be required by charter schools to take theology classes or be expelled for failing to conform to religious doctrines. And the government should never force anyone to fund religious education.”

“Funding private religious schools with public dollars violates core legal principles protecting religious freedom for all,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty).

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, CEO of Interfaith Alliance, told The Independent that this would “open the floodgates for taxpayer-funded discrimination.” He added: “Taxpayer money should never be used to fund religious instruction, and it is now up to the state to at least ensure St. Isidore abides by the federal nondiscrimination protections guaranteed in public schools.”

The decision by the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board is clearly a disregard for the democratic principles established by the nation’s founders.

Thomas Jefferson’s words in his letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, are as crucial today as they were in 1802: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

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