First Liberty Letter Leads to Approval of Nation’s First Religious Charter School

June 12, 2023

by Seth Kading and Jorge Gomez 6 min read

First Liberty’s landmark Supreme Court victories continue to have huge impact across the nation. Recently, the state of Oklahoma approved the country’s first religious charter school, the latest example of the ripple effect from our major victory last year in our Treat Children Fairly case (Carson v. Makin).

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that states cannot discriminate in student-aid programs against parents who send their children to religious schools. This gives greater freedom for families nationwide to choose the best schools for their children. Beyond education, this ruling also ensures fairness in how the government treats religious schools and organizations.

In April, the Oklahoma Virtual Charter School Board rejected the initial application by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City to create a Catholic virtual charter school. The board denied the application out of concerns about providing government funds to a religious school.

First Liberty attorney Hiram Sasser sent a letter to the board explaining that denying funds to the school because of its religious identity is religious discrimination, citing our landmark Supreme Court win in Carson. After receiving our letter and other materials, the board voted 3-2 to approve St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School—the nation’s first religious charter school fully funded by the government.

“We are elated that the board agreed with our argument and application for the nation’s first religious charter school,” said Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma. “Parents continue to demand more options for their kids, and we are committed to help provide them.”

In an interview with NPR, Farley also commented on Carson and several Supreme Court cases in recent years that are paving the way for greater protection of pubilcy funded religious schools:

“In our opinion, they all seem to be pointing in one direction, and that is that—as they’ve said and as they’ve said now three times—if a state has a program generally available that is state-funded, then they cannot prohibit a religious institution from participating in that program simply because they’re religious.”

Opening the Door to Fearless Expressions of Faith

It’s not just our Treat Children Fairly victory that has opened up religious expression like never before across the country. Faith and religious freedom are being restored in America because of all our wins in recent years at the Supreme Court. This includes our Coach Joe Kennedy case and our Bladensburg Peace Cross case, which combined set a precedent affirming that the government cannot censor private religious expression and must treat public religious displays as “presumptively constitutional.”

Thanks to these victories, we’re witnessing encouraging expressions of faith in local communities in every corner of our nation—just like Lydia Owens in Greenville, South Carolina, whose high school valedictorian speech recently went viral.

During her Sophomore year in high school, Lydia’s mother passed away. In her speech, she shared how important her faith was during this difficult moment. She told her classmates about the impact Jesus had on her life, helping her family grieve her mother. Lydia’s also encouraged her peers, telling them they are “made in the image of God” and that “God’s grace is sufficient” during life’s toughest trials. The room responded with applause.

Lydia isn’t alone. In Humble, Texas—just north of Houston—Campbell Lino, valedictorian for Atascocita High School, also fearlessly shared her faith during her graduation speech. She took the stage before a graduating class of 905 from a high school of almost 4,000, in front of a crowd of 10,000 in the building where the Houston Texans play on Sundays.

“Now I want to talk to you all about the most important person in my life—Jesus Christ— and how He has changed my life,” she said. The massive crowd responded with cheers.

It’s powerful and inspirational to see everyday heroes like Lydia and Campbell express their faith in public. Their courage is evidence that we can restore faith in America.

God has opened an incredible door for everyone to express our faith and protect freedom, and it is up to us to walk through it. We encourage you to go out into your community. You now have the legal foundation to boldly live out your faith and put religious freedom back exactly where it rightfully and legally belongs. And if your right to exercise your faith ever comes under attack, First Liberty stands ready to defend you.

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