Saturday, October 28, 2023

AG Drummond sues over Catholic charter school, draws ire from Stitt and Walters

This is from the 20th, but it's newsworthy enough to go ahead and post despite being "old news" at this point. Attorney General Gentner Drummond is once again lining up against Governor Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent Ryan Walters, this time over the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board's approval of a Catholic public charter school, which is touted (or decried, depending on the perspective) as the first publicly funded religious charter school in the nation.

Drummond thinks the approval violates the state and federal constitutions, while Stitt and Walters disagree and think it would instead violate religious liberty to deny the charter.

I, for one, am sympathetic to one point of Drummond's hesitance. As an evangelical Baptist, I don't want my tax dollars going to teach Roman Catholicism, Islam, Mormonism, or other religious that I fundamentally disagree with. However, on the other hand, the de facto religion of the public education system is secular atheistic humanism, devoid of any foundational standard for morality or righteousness.

The conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom is representing the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board in this matter. Below, you will first read Drummond's statement, followed by responses from Gov. Stitt and Superintendent Walters.

On a side note, the "Saint Isidore" that the proposed school is named after? Following Roman Catholicism's penchant for idolatry, Isidore of Seville (circa AD 560-636) is considered - though apparently not confirmed - as the "patron saint" of... the internet. 

Drummond files lawsuit against state virtual charter board members for violating religious liberty of Oklahoma taxpayers

OKLAHOMA CITY (Oct. 20, 2023) – Attorney General Gentner Drummond today filed suit against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board for approving what would be the nation’s first religious charter school funded by public tax dollars.

On June 5, the Board voted 3-2 to approve an application for St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School even though the school’s sponsor, the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, has emphasized that religious indoctrination will play a prominent role. 

Although the Office of the Attorney General had cautioned board members that approving the application would violate their oaths to uphold the state and U.S. constitutions, three members this week signed the contract for St. Isidore.

“The board members who approved this contract have violated the religious liberty of every Oklahoman by forcing us to fund the teachings of a specific religious sect with our tax dollars,” Drummond said.

“Today, Oklahomans are being compelled to fund Catholicism. Because of the legal precedent created by the Board’s actions, tomorrow we may be forced to fund radical Muslim teachings like Sharia law. In fact, Governor Stitt has already indicated that he would welcome a Muslim charter school funded by our tax dollars. That is a gross violation of our religious liberty. As the defender of Oklahoma’s religious freedoms, I am prepared to litigate this issue to the United States Supreme Court if that’s what is required to protect our Constitutional rights.”

Filed with the Oklahoma State Supreme Court, the lawsuit notes that the state Constitution expressly prohibits “sectarian control” of public schools. The litigation also argues that the would-be school impinges on religious liberty by violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Drummond said these constitutional protections ensure religious liberty, preventing a scenario in which Muslim Oklahomans would be forced to fund Christian and Jewish schools, Jewish Oklahomans would be forced to fund Christian and Muslim schools, and Oklahomans of no faith would be forced to fund religious schools for all faiths. 

“There is no religious freedom in compelling Oklahomans to fund religions that may violate their own deeply held beliefs,” he said. “The framers of the U.S. Constitution and those who drafted Oklahoma’s Constitution clearly understood how best to protect religious freedom: by preventing the State from sponsoring any religion at all.”

In 2016, Oklahoma voters soundly rejected amending the Constitution to let public money be applied to sectarian organizations. Now, the offending board members are seeking to undo the will of the people by forcing Oklahoma tax revenue to fund religious teaching. 

The lawsuit points out that the matter is particularly urgent for action by the Court. Proceeding with the nation’s first-ever, publicly funded religious charter school puts at risk more than $1 billion in federal education dollars that Oklahoma receives each year. To receive such funds, states must ensure compliance with applicable laws, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which clearly prohibits a religious public charter school.

“Oklahomans know all too well that our public schools face a slew of serious challenges,” Drummond said. “Given that reality, it is unconscionable that we would jeopardize desperately needed education dollars for the sake of a blatantly misguided endeavor.”

Taxpayers deserve much better, he said.

“Not only is this an irreparable violation of our individual religious liberty, but it is an unthinkable waste of our tax dollars,” said Drummond. “At a time when Oklahoma students underperform their peers across the country in every subject, why would we spend one penny of our tax dollars educating them on Catholicism, Sharia law or any other religious teaching? I would prefer we focus on reading proficiency so they can read the Bible at home with their family. That’s where religion is best taught: in homes and in churches, with the loving guidance of parents and pastors.”

The lawsuit can be read here and here.


OKLAHOMA CITY (October 20, 2023) - Governor Stitt released the following statement concerning Attorney General Gentner Drummond's lawsuit against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. 

“This lawsuit is a political stunt and runs counter to our Oklahoma values and the law. AG Drummond seems to lack any firm grasp on the constitutional principle of religious freedom and masks his disdain for the Catholics’ pursuit by obsessing over non-existent schools that don’t neatly align with his religious preference. His discriminatory and ignorant comment concerning a potential Muslim charter is a perfect illustration," said Gov. Stitt. "The creation of St. Isidore’s is a win for religious and education freedom in Oklahoma. We want parents to be able to choose the education that is best for their kids, regardless of income. The state shouldn’t stand in the way.”
Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted to approve an application for St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School. Governor Stitt applauded the approval

Walters Statement on Religious Charter School Lawsuit
Approval of St. Isidore of Seville is a landmark in the battle for educational and religious freedom

Oklahoma City, Okla (Oct. 20th) – State Superintendent Ryan Walters has issued the following statement regarding a lawsuit filed against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.

“The Constitution is crystal clear on religious liberty, but that fundamental truth is lost on some people. Oklahomans hold their faith and their liberty sacred, and atheism should not be the state-sponsored religion. We should not play politics with the future of our kids through this misguided lawsuit.

Oklahoma parents know what is best for their kids and deserve the most expansive system of school choice in the country so they can make the right decision for their families. The approval of St. Isidore of Seville is a landmark in the battle for educational and religious freedom, and I am proud that Oklahoma is leading the way. We will never back down.”


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