First Amendment victory: Oklahoma Supreme Court vetoes public dollars for religious ‘charter school’
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OKLAHOMA CITY (PAI)—The AFT (Teachers) and its Oklahoma affiliate are cheering an overwhelming 7 to 1 State Supreme Court ruling outlawing funneling public taxpayer dollars to a religiously established charter school.

The justices ruled on June 25 that the state’s charter school board violated both the state and federal constitutions by trying to funnel public funds to the Catholic Diocese to run the Tulsa-based St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School.

Ironically, in deep red Oklahoma, Republican state Attorney General Gentner Drummond had to argue for his state’s constitution and against the state’s charter school board. Charter schools are a key cause for the radical right, whose ultimate goal is to shutter public schools by diverting their cash to charters, often run by privatizers who view students as a source of profit.

And many religious charters also discriminate against students of color. In Oklahoma, that’s 55% of all students, including Black, Latino/a, and especially Native American students.

This time, with the church involved, St. Isidore ran afoul of the two constitutions, the court said.

AFT President Randi Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher who also has a law degree, and AFT-Oklahoma state President Mary Best lauded the St. Isidore ruling as “a crucial victory for religious liberty and freedom over the forces of extremism and sectarianism.”

“One of the clearest foundations of democracy is the freedom to practice, or not to practice, religion,” Best and Weingarten said in a joint statement. “The framers never intended to require public funding of religious institutions or schools, and, in fact, religious freedom itself is reliant on the distinction.

“Liberty ends when someone is compelled to support another’s private beliefs, and if the Attorney General had lost, Oklahoma would have been forced to siphon millions of dollars from public schools into private hands.

“The combination of the Constitution’s free exercise [of religion] clause and the concept of separation of church and state underpins our democracy, and this decision preserves that distinction. This case should never have had to be brought in the first place. A charter school for religious purposes paid for by public money should have been rejected as unconstitutional from the start.”

But they also warned that if the church appeals the state court’s ruling, public funding for religious charters “will continue to present an existential threat to…Oklahoma and the United States writ large.”

Justice James Winchester wrote for the majority, in essence saying if public funds flow to a school, it’s a public school and must be non-religious.

The state Public Charter School Act “does not allow a charter school to be sectarian in its programs, admissions policies, employment practices, and operations. The act’s mandate is in line with the Oklahoma Constitution and the” U.S. Constitution’s “Establishment Clause, which both prohibit the state from using public money for the establishment of a religious institution. St. Isidore’s educational philosophy is to establish and operate the school as a Catholic school. Under both state and federal law, the state is not authorized to establish or fund St. Isidore,” Winchester wrote.


Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.