Earlier this year, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa applied for a charter school license with the state of Oklahoma. While their intial application was rejected, that appears to be extremely common in the process; with a few updates their application was approved this past spring.
The ACLU has filed a lawsuit, alleging constitutional violations along with discrimination - the application states that Catholic Doctrine will be the final word on the school's expectations for students and staff, leaving many to question what will happen to LGBTQ+ students, among other questions.
Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, says “The very idea of a religious public school is a constitutional oxymoron. Charter schools, like all public schools, must be open to all students, and they must be free from religious indoctrination. St. Isidore will be neither. The unprecedented decision to approve this religious charter school violates the separation of church and state and tramples the rights of Oklahoma taxpayers, students, and their families.”
The new charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, will open in 2024, assuming lawsuits do not hold up the opening. The school will serve up to 1500 K-12 students. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa intend for this school to reach students in rural areas where there are not enough students to support an in-person Catholic school. They envision students possibly working at home or working in pods at local Catholic churches.
The diocese pointed out, in their application, that there have been a number of supreme court cases recently that have said states cannot withhold money from public organizations just because they are church organizations. Cases about grants for school playground equipment, vouchers for students in districts without high schools, and state funded scholarships and 529 accounts have been key decisions in recent years, pitting separation of church and state against religious-based discrimination.
Pagan groups should continue to watch this case closely, both because of the risks to our own liberties, and the opportunities for us to find ways to use these decisions to help our families and communities.
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