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Oklahoma Catholic charter school to appeal to Supreme Court in public funding dispute

U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, D.C. / Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Jul 9, 2024 / 13:02 pm (CNA).

A nascent Catholic charter school managed by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court after the state supreme court ruled that it could not be funded using public taxpayer dollars.

St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, a joint project between the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa, was set to launch in August as an online, tuition-free, Catholic K-12 charter school based out of Oklahoma City.

In the U.S., charter schools are free, publicly funded schools that have greater flexibility in their operations and management than traditional public schools. In a lawsuit last year, state Attorney General Genter Drummond had asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to declare the state’s contract with the school unconstitutional on the grounds that it constituted public funding of a religious institution.

The court last month agreed, ordering the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board to rescind its contract with the virtual Catholic charter school. 

The archdiocese said this week that the school will appeal that decision. 

“The school plans to seek review from the U.S. Supreme Court,” archdiocese spokesman John Helsley told CNA via email on Tuesday. 

The school is working with attorneys from the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Clinic, which is part of the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative. 

Oklahoma state law says that charter schools must be “nonsectarian” in their “programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations.” The Oklahoma state constitution forbids government funding of “any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion.”

The Catholic charter school’s board told CNA last year that the attorney general’s lawsuit  “employs the language of fear and discrimination, twists the law of religious liberty beyond recognition, and ignores the very real successes of faith-based schools in our country.”

Drummond, meanwhile, had argued the school’s contract approval “violated the religious liberty of every Oklahoman” by forcing state residents to fund “the teachings of a specific religious sect with our tax dollars.”

The Oklahoma dispute follows several recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions in favor of some public funding of religious institutions. 

A 2022 Supreme Court ruling in Carson v. Makin found that Maine couldn’t exclude religious schools from a tuition aid program. The ruling found that the state violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment by excluding “otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise.” 

The court’s ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, meanwhile, found that Montana’s Blaine Amendment, which prohibited religious schools from participating in a state scholarship program, violated the First Amendment.

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