The Controversy Surrounding the Opening of a State-Funded Catholic Charter School in Oklahoma

The Controversy Surrounding the Opening of a State-Funded Catholic Charter School in Oklahoma

In a landmark case that has sparked heated debates, four Christian leaders and education advocates are seeking to join a lawsuit filed by the Oklahoma State Attorney General. The lawsuit aims to prevent the opening of the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, which would be the first publicly funded religious charter school in the United States. These leaders argue that the school’s sponsorship by the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board undermines religious freedom and may lead to discrimination against nonreligious students. This article delves into the various perspectives surrounding this controversy.

The Plaintiffs’ Concerns

The plaintiffs, Melissa Abdo, Bruce Prescott, Rev. Mitch Randall, and Rev. Lori Walke, express their concerns about the potential infringement upon religious freedom and discrimination against nonreligious students. They argue that the separation of church and state is a shared responsibility and that the church should respect this boundary. Rev. Walke, a senior minister at Mayflower Congregational Church, fears that St. Isidore will discriminate against LGBTQ+ students due to the school’s connection to a particular brand of Christianity that she believes to be homophobic and misogynistic. Melissa Abdo, a Catholic and a member of the public school board in Jenks, Oklahoma, raises concerns about St. Isidore’s ability to comply with all obligations imposed on public schools, such as transparency and accountability to taxpayers.

The Attorney General’s Argument

Attorney General Gentner Drummond contends that the decision to sponsor St. Isidore violates Oklahoma’s Constitution. He asserts that if necessary, he is prepared to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Drummond warns that allowing public funds to support a religious charter school sets a dangerous precedent and is unconstitutional.

The Faith Leaders’ Allies

The Oklahoma faith leaders are supported by prominent organizations such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Education Law Center, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. These organizations aim to defend the separation of church and state and protect the rights of nonreligious students.

The School’s Defense

The St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, a joint effort of the Oklahoma City and Tulsa archdioceses, argues that claims of discrimination are unfounded. The school highlights its open-door enrollment policy, which welcomes students of all faiths. They state their commitment to following the Congregation for Catholic Education’s recommendations. And offering a comprehensive education that nurtures the entire person.

Public Figures’ Support

Despite the controversy, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent Ryan Walters publicly express their support for the Catholic charter school. Governor Stitt emphasizes the importance of respecting individuals’ faith and encourages the establishment of faith-based educational institutions. Superintendent Walters argues that the lawsuit discriminates against Oklahomans based on their faith.

Concerns About Special Needs Students

Bruce Prescott, a retired Baptist minister, raises concerns about St. Isidore’s ability to cater to students with special needs. Drawing from his experience in a private religious school. He suggests that public schools are better equipped to provide necessary support for these students. Prescott advocates for religious education to be funded voluntarily by constituents.

Funding of Religious Schools in Oklahoma

Proponents of St. Isidore argue that public funding for religious schools is not unprecedented in Oklahoma. They point to existing programs such as the Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarship program, the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program. And the newly-created Parental Choice Tax Credit that already provide public funds to religious schools.

Historical Perspective

Rev. Mitch Randall, a Baptist minister and CEO of Good Faith Media, shares his concerns about the potential consequences of government-funded religious education. Drawing from his family’s experience in Native American boarding schools, which aimed to assimilate Indigenous people into Christianity. He fears that government funding may enable discrimination and the suppression of cultural identity.

The Future of St. Isidore

St. Isidore plans to open for the 2024-25 school year and aims to serve 1,500 students within five years of operation. The court’s decision on the lawsuit will play a significant role in determining the fate of the school. And the broader implications for the separation of church and state in Oklahoma.


The controversy surrounding the opening of the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School highlights the ongoing debate over the separation of church and state. While supporters argue for religious freedom and the right to establish faith-based educational institutions. Opponents raise concerns about potential discrimination and the use of public funds for religious purposes. The outcome of the lawsuit will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for the future of religious charter schools. And the protection of religious freedom in Oklahoma.

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