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Oklahoma Residents File Lawsuit to Block State-Funded Religious School

The “In the States” feature by Kaitlyn Brennan is a weekly update to keep members informed on state-level activities impacting the education and educator preparation community.

On Monday, a group of Oklahoma residents filed a lawsuit in an effort to block the state from funding America’s first public religious charter school. The group of residents are comprised of parent and faith-based leaders who are backed by several organizations, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, Education Law Center, and Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group is asking a state judge to block St. Isidore from operating as a charter school, stop a state charter school board from entering into or implementing any contracts with the school, and also halt the state from funding the school. The lawsuit names the school, members of the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter Board, the Oklahoma State Education Department, and Superintendent Ryan Walters as defendants.

In a statement, Rachel Laser, President and CEO of Americans United said in part:

“It’s hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families than the state establishing a public school that is run as a religious school,”, said in a statement … We’re witnessing a full-on assault on church-state separation and public education — and religious public charter schools are the next frontier. America needs a national recommitment to church-state separation.”

As you will recall, in June Oklahoma state officials approved a bid to open the country’s first publicly funded religious charter school. At the time, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt praised the decision saying in part, “Oklahomans support religious liberty for all and support an increasingly innovative educational system that expands choice … Today, with the nation watching, our state showed that we will not stand for religious discrimination.”

Additional lawsuits are expected in the coming months.