Lawsuit Filed Against First Religious Charter School
KTUL - August 3, 2023 6:41 am
TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) — Tensions are running high as a lawsuit has been filed in the Oklahoma County District Court to halt the establishment of St. Isidore of Seville, the nation’s first religious charter school.
The plaintiffs assert that funding the school with taxpayer dollars violates the principles of separation of church and state.
Rev. Dr. Lori Walke, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, emphasized that creating a religious public charter school should not be viewed as an exercise of religious freedom. She argues that the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board violated the law and ignored the separation of church and state when it approved St. Isidore’s application on June 5.
“Creating a religious public charter school is not religious freedom,” said Walke.
The lawsuit, filed on Monday, contests the legality of St. Isidore on multiple fronts. It argues that the school will discriminate based on religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other protected characteristics. Additionally, it alleges that the school asserts the right to discriminate against students with disabilities.
Rachel Laser, President & CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which is sponsoring the lawsuit, emphasized the importance of keeping public schools welcoming to all.
“St. Isidore’s has made clear if you go to their website that they will only admit families that basically pass their religious test,” said Laser.
Apart from legal considerations, the case also raises questions about the status of charter schools and whether they must abide by the same rules as traditional public schools. Recent Supreme Court rulings on the inclusion of private, religious schools in voucher programs add further complexity to the issue.
On the other side of the debate, Ryan Walters, the Superintendent of Public Schools and one of the defendants named in the lawsuit, opposes the legal challenge.
“It’s an absolutely ridiculous lawsuit,” said Walters. “You know, this is an assault on religious liberty.”
Walters has been an avid supporter of St. Isidore and said he remains committed to fostering an environment of school choice in Oklahoma.
“When they use the phrase separation of church and state, what they mean is that they want to run religion out of every institution, and that’s absolutely not what we’re going to be supporting here,” said Walters.
Walke said that the argument that opponents of the charter school want to take a higher power out of schools is getting old.
“When churches and people of faith stand up for the separation of church and state, that is truly defending religious freedom,” said Walke.
As the legal battle unfolds, the fate of St. Isidore remains uncertain. A school board member told our Oklahoma City sister station that it had anticipated signing its charter contract in September, but the lawsuit seeks an injunction that could delay the process.