HomeTop StoriesLawsuit seeks to block first publicly funded religious school in US

Lawsuit seeks to block first publicly funded religious school in US

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on Monday on behalf of Oklahoma residents asking a state court judge to block the creation of the nation’s first religious public charter school.

Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, one of the defendants in the suit, in June approved the Catholic Church’s application to create the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, which would use millions of dollars in taxpayer’s funds to operate.

“Allowing St. Isidore to operate as planned would transform Oklahoma’s public schools into tools of discrimination and religious indoctrination,” the ACLU said in a written statement.

Requests for comment from the statewide charter school board and the state’s Department of Education were not immediately returned.

Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, said on Monday that the lawsuit came as no surprise and that “we remain confident that the Oklahoma court will ultimately agree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in favor of religious liberty.”

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Church officials have said they hope the case will reach the U.S. Supreme Court, where a 6-3 conservative majority has taken an expansive view of religious rights, including in two rulings since 2020 concerning schools in Maine and Montana.

Roman Catholic organizers proposed creating St. Isidore to offer an online education for kindergarten through high school initially for 500 students and eventually 1,500.

Charter schools are publicly funded and independently run under the terms of a charter with a local or national authority.

St. Isidore would cost Oklahoma taxpayers up to $25.7 million over its first five years of operation, its organizers said in their application for the school.

The idea came from the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. The law school at the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic institution in Indiana, helped with the application.

Listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging St. Isidore are nine Oklahoma residents and the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee. The ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Education Law Center and Freedom From Religion Foundation represent the plaintiffs.

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Defendants in addition to the statewide school board include St. Isidore, the state education department and the state superintendent of public instruction.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; editing by Donna Bryson and Bill Berkrot)

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