The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s superintendent of public instruction cannot intervene in a lawsuit against the state’s first religious charter school.
In a decision last week, the high court denied the Oklahoma Department of Education and Superintendent Ryan Walters’ request to intervene in the ongoing lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, its members and St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School.
“This lawsuit is misguided in that it discriminates against some Oklahomans due to their faith, but also the fact that it is our agency that administers state aid for charter schools, not the Virtual Charter School Board,” said Walters in a statement about his motion to intervene in the case.
“Rather than enshrine atheism as a state-sponsored religion, we are blessed that our Constitution guarantees religious liberty. I will never back down in the fight to uphold religious liberty in our state,” he vowed.
Nothing, especially no misguided lawsuit, will deter me from standing up for our constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom. pic.twitter.com/VuxfOtxYT1— Superintendent Ryan Walters (@RyanWaltersSupt) November 9, 2023
Walters’ motion to intervene would have enabled the Department of Education to become a party in the lawsuit, along with the original plaintiff and defendants.
In a separate decision on Nov. 14, the Oklahoma Supreme Court granted the motion to intervene filed by St. Isidore.
According to its website, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School is “a collaborative effort between the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa to serve students in Oklahoma.” Its goal is to provide a “quality Catholic education” to students with “limited access to a Catholic school.”
The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved the charter school application for St. Isidore’s earlier this year in a 3-2 vote after previously rejecting it. The virtual school is slated to begin holding classes in the fall 2024.
“The Oklahoma State Department of Education is responsible for the funding of Oklahoma schools through distribution of state aid,” Walters asserted in the motion to intervene.
“And yet, when the Petitioner sought to challenge the potential distribution of state aid to St. Isidore — a statewide virtual charter school that will be operated by the Oklahoma Catholic Conference — it noticeably declined to include the Department as a respondent in this action.”
While the court did not grant Walters’ request to intervene in the case, it will allow him and the department to file friend-of-the-court briefs to lay out their points of view. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Department of Education have until Tuesday to do so.
The attorney general filed a lawsuit last month in response to the state’s establishment of the first-ever religiously affiliated charter school in the nation.
Drummond warned that “Oklahomans are being forced to fund Catholicism” because of St. Isidore receiving taxpayer funding. He expressed concern that by approving St. Isidore as a publicly funded charter school, Oklahomans could find themselves “forced to fund radical Muslim teachings like Sharia law” down the line.
“The framers of the U.S. Constitution and those who drafted Oklahoma’s Constitution clearly understood how best to protect religious freedom: by preventing the State from sponsoring any religion at all,” he added. “As the defender of Oklahoma’s religious freedoms, I am prepared to litigate this issue to the United States Supreme Court if that’s what is required to protect our Constitutional rights.”
Walters pushed back on the idea that publicly funding St. Isidore violated the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions. He cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision inCarson v. Makin to contend that “distribution of state aid to St. Isidore — once proper administrative steps are complete — is not only lawful, but required under the Free Exercise Trilogy, and it seeks to defend that position.”
In Carson, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Maine cannot prohibit families from using money from a state-funded tuition assistance program to send their children to religious schools.
The future of St. Isidore as the nation’s first publicly funded charter school rests in the hands of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Drummond indicated in his remarks that he would appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if he did not receive a favorable ruling from the state Supreme Court.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com