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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (Gov. Kevin Stitt Facebook page)

Nation’s first taxpayer-funded Catholic school approved in Oklahoma

St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School in Oklahoma is set to become the nation’s first taxpayer-funded Catholic school. The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved the proposal this week.

Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative Clinic advised the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa, which spearheaded the application for the school. When the diocese previously attempted application approval in February, Oklahoma attorney general Gentner Drummond warned that a charter school run by a private religious organization would be a slippery slope to state-funded religion. He also said it would open the door to disputes between faiths over creating schools to represent each of them.

In April, the state charter school board rejected the diocese’s application 5-0, concerned about state statutes and the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits the use of public money for religious purposes.

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“While many Oklahomans undoubtedly support charter schools sponsored by various Christian faiths, the precedent created by approval of the application will compel approval of similar applications by all faiths,” Drummond wrote in a letter. “Unfortunately, the approval of a charter school by one faith will compel the approval of charter schools by all faiths, even those most Oklahomans would consider reprehensible and unworthy of public funding.”

Drummond’s opinion contradicted that of his predecessor, former state attorney general John O’Connor, who in early December said that religious institutions should be able to operate charter schools. The Oklahoma Charter Schools Act’s requirement that a charter school be “nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices and all other operations” is likely unconstitutional, O’Connor said.

O’Connor said the U.S. Supreme Court would not agree that “a state should be allowed to discriminate against religiously affiliated private participants who wish to establish and operate charter schools in accordance with their faith alongside other private participants.”

The U.S. Supreme court ruled in a Missouri case that the state could not discriminate against a church over funding and materials the church sought to improve a playground.

Barring any litigation that could disrupt its opening, the Oklahoma school is set to enroll 400 to 500 students in its first year, which would begin in the fall of 2024.The diocese and its leaders vowed to escalate the legal battle to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice

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