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Oklahoma Approves First-Ever Religious Charter School

June 22nd, 2023

The state of Oklahoma recently approved the first-ever fully publicly-funded religious charter school in the nation.

The separation of church and state is a contentious issue throughout the United States, and this debate has led to several important legal decisions over the years. The Constitution states that America should not have a national religion, and this means it cannot offer preferential treatment to any particular religious teaching. It also means that the government cannot provide funding to a wide range of religious organizations – including schools. But what happens when a US state decides to start funding a religious school for the first time?

Oklahoma Gives the Green Light to Religious Charter School

On June 6, it was reported that the State of Oklahoma had agreed to provide funding to a religious charter school. A charter school is a school that receives government funding while operating outside of the normal school system within the jurisdiction. Currently, religious charter schools exist across the United States but cannot receive funding from the government due to the Constitutionally mandated separation of church and state. 

We can expect a major constitutional debate due to this decision by Oklahoma lawmakers. The main argument is that church and state should always be separated, and taxpayer money should not go toward religious organizations that some Americans may not agree with. 

The Religious Charter School At Issue

Not only is this new charter school religious, but it will also operate online. Named the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, this institution will undoubtedly appeal to the many parents who wish to homeschool their children. These parents may be concerned about the direction in which public education is headed, and they may have been encouraged by the experiences of online school during the pandemic. This particular school will be administered by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa. 

The decision to provide the new school with public funding barely passed a vote by the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, and it ended up being a 3-2 victory. This may have something to do with the fact that the board is filled with appointees chosen by the current Republican governor of Oklahoma. 

In many ways, this situation isn’t all that new. Many religious schools across the United States already receive funding from the government. However, no religious school has yet been fully financed by the government, which would make St. Isidore a first. Of course, the cost of funding a fully-online school is much lower than the cost of funding an in-person school, so the taxpayer burden will not be excessive.

Legal Action Against the Religious Charter School 

Americans United for Separation of Church and State argues that it is the principle and constitutional violation that we should be concerned about – not the amount of money this school is receiving. Representatives from this organization argue that St. Isidore might represent the first of many religious online schools and that this trend could easily shift established laws in the United States. Once again, we are faced with the conflict between two important aspects of our society: The separation of church and state and the banning of religious discrimination.

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

Each week, the Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on documenting the most noteworthy cases involving the required separation between church and state. Despite required Constitutional separation, many fear that the Supreme Court’s current majority could erode these foundational constitutional principles. Our blog focuses on describing matters in a way that objectively examines both sides and which can be easily understood by readers. 

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