Yesterday, Catholic educators went to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to defend their right to help serve the educational needs of all families across the State. For more than 100 years, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa have served families in Oklahoma through schools that offer children an authentically Catholic education that forms and prepares them to be engaged, productive, and conscientious members of their community. A recent lawsuit by Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond seeks to shut down the dioceses’ most recent effort to extend this educational tradition and expand educational opportunities statewide through the opening of a virtual charter school.
In June, Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, which will offer a high-quality Catholic education to the many families who currently lack that opportunity — especially families in Oklahoma’s many rural areas, including many Hispanic and Native communities. St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School is due to open in the Fall of 2024 and will also provide an important resource for the many Oklahoma children who find traditional schooling difficult or frustrating due to learning differences.
“The Catholic Church has long pioneered educational opportunities in Oklahoma even before statehood,” said Brett Farley, Executive Director for the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma. “We are excited to collaborate with the State in this latest initiative to further expand those resources, and most of all for families with the greatest needs.”
Last month, only days after St. Isidore signed its contract to operate as a charter school, Drummond sued the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board for welcoming this partnership with faith-based educators. Drummond’s lawsuit asks the Oklahoma Supreme Court to deny these critical educational opportunities solely because St. Isidore is faith-based. It demands that the Board refuse to partner with any organization that would offer a religious educational option for parents to choose.
St. Isidore seeks to defend its fundamental right to contribute to the “diverse array of educational options” made available to families through Oklahoma’s charter-school program. St. Isidore’s filing stands against Drummond’s insistence that the State may ignore St. Isidore’s religious liberty rights and deny the school’s freedom to take part in that program merely because it is religious.
“Faith-based schools have a long and distinguished record of educating children most in need of educational opportunities. The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the First Amendment protects the dioceses’ right to cooperate with the state to expand those opportunities through a virtual charter school,” said Nicole Stelle Garnett, John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law at Notre Dame.
The Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic represents St. Isidore in this lawsuit, along with a team of attorneys from Dechert LLP.
“The Board approved St. Isidore because of its demonstrated commitment to educational excellence and its ability to open new opportunities to families across the state,” said John Meiser, Director of Notre Dame’s Religious Liberty Clinic. “This lawsuit would deny those opportunities in the hope of scoring political points. Fortunately, bedrock tenets of our First Amendment prohibit that – and reject the Attorney General’s demand that his state treat people differently based on what they believe.”
This is the second lawsuit in which groups opposed to faith-based educators have sought to close St. Isidore’s doors before they can even open to children and families in the state. The Religious Liberty Clinic and Dechert LLP also represent St. Isidore in a similar lawsuit filed elsewhere in Oklahoma by a number of interest groups.
“These lawsuits are baseless and they distract from St. Isidore’s mission of educating children,” Meiser said. “We are confident that the courts will recognize that and I hope the suits will be dismissed quickly so that St. Isidore can focus on its work that is so important to families in Oklahoma.”
About the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic
The Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic represents individuals and organizations from all faith traditions to promote not only the freedom for people to hold religious beliefs but also their fundamental right to express those beliefs and to live according to them. Students in the Clinic work under the guidance of Notre Dame Law School faculty and staff to provide advice, counsel, and advocacy on a broad array of matters related to religious freedom in the United States and abroad. The Religious Liberty Clinic has participated in proceedings at all levels of federal and state courts, in administrative agencies, and before foreign courts and other governmental bodies around the world.
Learn more about the Religious Liberty Clinic at religiousliberty.nd.edu/clinic/.
Originally published by religiousliberty.nd.edu on November 07, 2023.at