Oklahoma Judge Says Lawsuit Over Nation’s First Catholic Charter School Can Proceed

In October 2023, the state board approved the charter contract for St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, putting the school on the path to becoming the first religiously affiliated charter school in the United States.

A charter school is a privately managed institution that receives public funding like standard public schools.
A charter school is a privately managed institution that receives public funding like standard public schools. (photo: ImYanis / Shutterstock)

An Oklahoma judge this week said a lawsuit challenging the nation’s first religious charter school can proceed, a victory for opponents wishing to halt public funding of the Catholic institution.

Oklahoma County District Judge Richard Ogden will allow the lawsuit against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board to move forward almost in its entirety, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) said in a press release.

In October 2023, the state board approved the charter contract for St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, putting the school on the path to becoming the first religiously affiliated charter school in the United States.

A charter school is a privately managed institution that receives public funding like standard public schools. The plaintiffs in the Oklahoma lawsuit — who are being represented by AU, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ​​Freedom From Religion Foundation — contend that the state’s funding of a religious school violates both Oklahoma statutory and constitutional law.

In the ruling this week, the judge allowed nearly all of the plaintiff’s claims against the school to proceed, tossing out only one claim against the school alleging that it had failed to pledge to follow nondiscrimination rules.

Ogden’s decision was “not making any type of ruling regarding substantive arguments” in the case, the judge said in issuing the order.

The next hearing for the case is scheduled for July 24. The suit is ultimately aimed at “preventing St. Isidore from receiving state funds or operating as a public charter school,” AU said in its release.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court earlier this year heard a separate case against the school, this one filed by Oklahoma Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who also opposes granting the school access to taxpayer dollars.

Drummond argued in his suit that funding the school with public money would result in “harm to religious liberty,” one that would set a precedent that could require the state to fund a “public charter school teaching Sharia Law.”

The Catholic school did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling on Thursday.

The prelates currently leading Oklahoma’s two dioceses — Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley and Tulsa Bishop David Konderla — serve as the school’s two corporate members.

The school advertises itself as a “full time, K–12, tuition-free, online Catholic charter school in the state of Oklahoma.” Its first day of school is scheduled for Aug. 12.

Oklahoma Supreme Court

Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules Against Catholic Charter School Proposal

In a dissent to the state high court’s majority opinion, Justice Dana Kuehn argued that St. Isidore’s would be a partner of the state, not a government entity, and thus the state denying funds to St. Isidore’s because it is religious would violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.