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Oklahoma Attorney General’s Opposition to Taxpayer-Funded Catholic Charter School Has Legal Group Crying Foul

January 10, 2024

(Fox News)—A legal group is crying foul against Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s stance on the establishment of the first-ever religious-based charter school in the U.S., an issue being weighed in the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The Liberty Justice Center (LJC) and the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty (JCRL) are defending St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Catholic School (SISVCS), an institution that teaches Catholic beliefs, from Drummond’s petition to repeal the institution’s charter status.

They jointly filed an amicus brief in defense of the Catholic school which is enthralled in Drummond v. Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. In this case, Drummond is pushing back against the Board for approving by a 3-2 vote in June last year to establish what would be the nation’s first taxpayer-funded religious charter school.

When the Board voted to approve the application for SISVCS, the school’s sponsor, the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, was transparent that Catholic teachings would play a prominent role in the institution.

In the lawsuit filed by Drummond in October last year, he argued the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board is violating the religious liberty of Oklahoma taxpayers because they are “compelled” to fund Catholicism.

“The board members who approved this contract have violated the religious liberty of every Oklahoman by forcing us to fund the teachings of a specific religious sect with our tax dollars,” Drummond said in a press release about the lawsuit.

“Because of the legal precedent created by the Board’s actions, tomorrow we may be forced to fund radical Muslim teachings like Sharia law,” he added.

Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt disagrees with Drummond.

Stitt released a statement in October shortly after Drummond’s lawsuit calling it a political stunt that “runs counter” to “Oklahoma values and the law.”

“The creation of St. Isidore’s is a win for religious and education freedom in Oklahoma. We want parents to be able to choose the education that is best for their kids, regardless of income. The state shouldn’t stand in the way,” Stitt said.

The LJC cited Drummond’s “attack” against the Catholic-based charter school as mere “opposition” that is “motivated by animus against minority religions,” thus, violating the First Amendment.

The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board granted it a charter in June last year based on legal opinion from then-Attorney General John O’Connor.

After O’Connor was succeeded by Drummond in January, the new state attorney general withdrew his predecessor’s legal opinion on the matter the next month, per a letter Drummond sent to the executive director of the Board states.

In the letter, Drummond cited procedural impropriety and lack of legal precedent to legitimize the approval of the charter school.

He added that the legal precedence used in O’Connor’s opinion related to private schools and not charter schools.

“This office recognizes that the law is currently unsettled as to whether charter schools are state actors,” Drummond told the Board executive director.

The AG also noted in the letter that although he is a supporter of religious liberty, approval of a taxpayer-funded religious-based school would create a “slippery slope” for other faith-based institutions that conflict with the Catholic tenets to emerge. He said the move could lead to a school teaching Sharia Law to emerge.

He went on to say, “The Opinion, as issued by my predecessor, misuses the concept of religious liberty by employing as a means to justify state-funded religion.”

In the LJC and JCRL’s amicus brief, they stress that Drummond’s petition is asking the court to discriminate against religious minorities in violation of the First Amendment.

They noted that his reference to the Muslim faith and Sharia Law in the letter to the Board are comments that “demonstrate that the petition is premised on an animus toward religious minorities impermissible under the United States Supreme Court First Amendment precedent.”

Furthermore, they specifically pointed to Drummond’s comment that most Oklahoma citizens would consider some other religious school sponsorships “reprehensible and unworthy of public funding.”

“The Attorney General’s statements betray an animus toward religious minorities that the Supreme Court has long found impermissible from a state actor,” said Dean McGee, Educational Freedom Attorney at the LJC.

He continued, “We support parents’ right to choose whatever education is best for their children—including education by religious schools—and urge the Supreme Court to reject the Attorney General’s petition.”

However, a spokesperson for Drummond’s office clarified to Fox News Digital that what Drummond meant was that what “most Oklahomans would not find worthy of funding is a charter school teaching Sharia law or a satanic school.”