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Groups in Oklahoma sue to stop a religious charter school from opening in the state

Aug. 2, 2023
Oklahoma's Statewide Virtual Charter School Board has approved the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City's plan to open a religious charter school.

A group of parents, faith leaders and a public education nonprofit has filed a lawsuit in an effort to stop Oklahoma from establishing what would be the nation’s first religious public charter school.

The Associated Press reports that the suit seeks to stop state funds from going to the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. Oklahoma's Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 last month to approve the application by the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City to establish the school.

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.”

The Charter Board's vote to grant a charter to St. Isidore came despite a warning from Oklahoma’s attorney general that such a school would violate both state law and the Oklahoma Constitution.

Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt earlier this year signed a bill that would give parents in the state a tax incentive to send their children to private schools, including religious schools.

A legal challenge to the board’s application approval was expected, said Brett Farley, the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma.

“News of a suit from these organizations comes as no surprise since they have indicated early in this process their intentions to litigate,” Farley said.

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