An ongoing legal battle is testing the limits of the United States Constitution and, specifically, the intersect of freedom of religion and education.
In early 2023, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and other civil organizations filed a lawsuit to stop the Oklahoma state government from funding the United States’ first religious charter school. Charter schools in the United States are public funded by state tax money, but individually run by private entities.
St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School is a virtual charter school in the state of Oklahoma. Set to open in August of 2024, St. Isidore “envisions a learning opportunity for all students whose parents desire a quality Catholic education for their child regardless of where they live in Oklahoma.” If opened, St. Isidore would become the first of its kind in the United States, paving the way for other religious charter schools around the country.
In an open letter, opponents of the school argue state funds should not be allocated to a charter school as this “would transform Oklahoma’s public schools into tools of discrimination and religious indoctrination.” Further, opponents believe by the state of Oklahoma supporting the Catholic doctrine, “students could be denied admission of punished based on their religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other failures to comply with Catholic doctrine.”
Proponents of the charter school, such as State Superintendent Ryan Walters who is named in the lawsuit, have previously stated: “suing and targeting the Catholic Virtual Charter School is religious persecution because of one’s faith, which is the very reason that religious freedom is constitutionally protected.”
This is not the first case involving a religious school obtaining funds from the State and it will likely not be the last. Last year, the United States Supreme Court shut down a prohibition in Maine that barred state money from being directed to any schools that offer religious instruction.
A ruling for St. Isidore could dramatically change how school funding allocations are conducted not only in Oklahoma, but around the United States.
At Dalton & Tomich, we help churches, schools, ministries, and all other religious organizations across the country by helping them with all legal issues they may face. If you would like us to help your religious organization, please do not hesitate to contact us.