by Jorge Gomez • 3 min read
First Liberty and the law firm Spencer Fane LLP are asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Oklahoma Charter School Board’s approval of St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School as a charter school. We filed the motion on behalf of the Oklahoma Department of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters.
“It is perplexing that the ACLU and others filed a lawsuit against Superintendent Walters and the State Board of Education demanding that they both engage in religious discrimination when neither has taken any action related to the charter school,” said First Liberty Executive General Hiram Sasser.
“The Plaintiffs in this case filed a premature lawsuit using claims that do not exist under Oklahoma law,” added A.J. Ferate, an attorney with Spencer Fane.
“Religious freedom is at the very bedrock of our nation,” said State Superintendent Ryan Walters. “Those who would sue to abridge the freedom of Americans to freely exercise their religion stand against 400 years of religious tolerance in America, predating the United States itself. I will fight to protect the freedom of all Oklahomans enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and Oklahoma laws, especially in our schools.”
Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Virtual Charter School Board took the first step toward approving a faith-based charter school, the latest example of the ripple effect from our major victory last year in our Treat Children Fairly case (Carson v. Makin). The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that states cannot discriminate in student-aid programs against parents who send their children to religious schools. That 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 while expressing concerns about sending government funds to a religious school.
First Liberty sent a letter to the board explaining that denying funds to the school because of its religious identity is religious discrimination, citing our landmark 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.
Our motion explains that in the last six years, the Supreme Court has told states three separate times that their practice of excluding religious organizations from public benefits is “odious” to the Constitution. Those cases include Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, and Carson v. Makin. Our filing points out:
“In this case, Plaintiffs ask the Court to require the Department to engage in the exact behavior that the Supreme Court told Missouri, Montana and Maine was unconstitutional. This Court should reject that request and uphold the Constitutions and laws of the United States and Oklahoma.”
Ultimately, the State of Oklahoma must follow the rule of law. The Oklahoma Board of Education is committed to applying all state laws to every charter school applicant to the extent allowed under the United States Constitution, and following all Supreme Court precedents in the process.