FFRF sounds alarm over Okla. OK to Catholic charter school


The Freedom From Religion Foundation is appalled that an official Oklahoma educational entity just approved the establishment of the first publicly funded religious charter school in the nation.

In violation of basic constitutional principles and Oklahoma statutes, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board today, June 5, gave the go ahead to the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and Diocese of Tulsa’s application to run a religious charter school.

“State officials have allowed their personal religious preferences to take precedence over the Constitution by voting to force taxpayers to support a Catholic charter school,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Notre Dame law clinic, which is leading the assault, intends to overturn laws around the country requiring public charter schools to be secular.”

FFRF has learned from the application that the Catholic charter appears to want to follow state laws and regulations only as long as they do not conflict with Catholic law. In other words, Catholic entities in Oklahoma are not hiding that this will be a pervasively Catholic religious school in all respects, and they plan to ignore any laws or policies that they determine don’t align with their doctrine.

Since Oklahoma charter schools are state actors, they are restricted by the Oklahoma Constitution and the United States Constitution, FFRF asserted in a 10-page memo it published at the beginning of the year. Furthermore, the memo cited court decisions affirming that charter schools are public schools and, therefore, they cannot violate the constitutional rights of students. The Oklahoma Charter Schools Act specifically states that a private school cannot be converted to a charter school, that the charter school must be “equally free and open to all students as traditional public schools” with public oversight, and that charter schools cannot be religious.

What’s baffling is that the application clearly stated its intent to establish a religious charter school, as FFRF Legal Fellow Karen Heineman pointed out in a letter to the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. This includes admitting “any” students so long as they are willing to adhere to the beliefs of the Catholic faith. Additionally, the curriculum would require religion and theology classes in students’ schedules. And hiring policies indicate that the school will retain its rights to consider religion in employment-related decisions.

A hearing session at an April board meeting made it clear that the public overwhelmingly opposes this scheme. It is unfortunate that Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, who issued a diatribe against “radical leftists” opposing this approval because they “hate the Catholic Church,” seems set on tearing down secular, public education and replacing it with exclusionary, religious indoctrination at the public’s expense. The current Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond reversed his predecessor’s opinion in saying that such a charter school “misuses the concept of religious liberty by employing it as a means to justify state-funded religion.”

The charter school approval also brings to the fore tax inequity issues. Only 10 percent of Oklahoma taxpayers are Catholic, FFRF emphasizes, and yet all taxpayers would be forced to contribute to a Catholic virtual charter school siphoning taxpayer funds away from public schools to implement Catholic doctrine, robbing students of a secular education.

FFRF is not taking the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board’s religious vote lightly, given that this is a test case for the Catholic Church with national import. FFRF is considering a range of options, such as a direct legal challenge. Basic issues of law and fairness, as well as the future of secular public education, are at stake here — and the state/church watchdog will respond accordingly.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 41,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Oklahoma. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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