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Education

Justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court are deliberating on the establishment of a religious charter school, which, if approved, would mark a historic first in the United States

The Oklahoma Supreme Court convened on Tuesday to deliberate a case with potentially far-reaching implications—a case that could pave the way for publicly funded religious charter schools nationwide.

Last summer, the state’s virtual charter school board greenlit a proposal for the establishment of a unique educational institution: St. Isidore of Seville Catholic School. Operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa, this school would integrate Catholic beliefs and principles into its curriculum and campus life, akin to private parochial schools. If realized, St. Isidore would stand as the first charter school of its kind in the United States, accredited by the Oklahoma State Department of Education and slated to commence classes in mid-August.

However, the proposal has encountered significant opposition from various quarters, including Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who led arguments against the board’s decision at the state’s highest court. Critics contend that using public funds to operate a religious charter school violates the constitutional principle of separating church and state.

Charter schools, although privately managed, receive public funding, affording them flexibility in their educational approaches. Yet, this also subjects them to legal scrutiny akin to traditional public schools. Drummond warned that approving St. Isidore could set a precedent for state-sponsored religious schools of various denominations, potentially leading to broader implications beyond Oklahoma’s borders.

The case represents one of many recent legal battles over the intersection of religion and public education. Advocates argue that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings support religious programs’ access to taxpayer funds. They also highlight the academic success of Catholic schools.

Attorneys representing St. Isidore and the virtual charter school board contend that denying public funds to religious institutions constitutes discrimination, violating constitutional rights. However, skeptics, including the Oklahoma Supreme Court justices, question whether St. Isidore can truly be considered a private entity, given its receipt of public funding and its status as a charter school.

As the court weighs its decision, the outcome of this case is poised to shape the landscape of education policy and religious freedom in the United States.

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