Funding of an online Christian school is jeopardised
The first publicly funded online religious school has faced fierce opposition in the state of Oklahoma.
A group of parents, clergy and education activists have filed a lawsuit asking a state court to block the opening of the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, which is scheduled to open in 2024. Opponents believe it will threaten religious freedom and dissociation between church and state, by violating the constitution and state law, which requires that charter schools be “nonsectarian in their programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations.”
Some think it would cause discrimination against non-religious and LGBQT+ students. Certain groups expressed their concerns about the state pushing ideologies, for example, pressurising indigenous communities into assimilation and giving up their native culture.
The superintendent of public instruction, Ryan Walters, fully supports the taxpayer-backed initiative. He said: “The lawsuit discriminates against some Oklahomans due to their faith.”
Governor Kevin Stitt also proclaimed his support for the Catholic school: “Am I supportive of the Catholics going out and setting up a Catholic charter school? 100%. I think that’s great. Just like I don’t shy away from my faith, I don’t expect anybody to shy away from their faith, either.”
The project is also endorsed by lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom, who submitted a case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court last week, opposing a petition filed by the state attorney general.
According to ADF Senior Counsel Phil Sechler: “The board’s decision was informed by the Free Exercise Clause, which prohibits state officials from denying public funding to religious schools simply because they are religious.
Oklahoma parents and children are better off with more choices, not fewer. The U.S. Constitution and Oklahoma’s Religious Freedom Act both protect St. Isidore’s freedom to operate according to its faith and the board’s decision to approve such learning options for Oklahoma families. We urge the state’s high court to reject this legal challenge that discriminates against religion and affirm the constitutionally protected rights of religious groups to be treated the same as their secular counterparts.”