A group of public school parents, taxpayers and faith leaders on Monday filed the first legal challenge to a state-sanctioned religious charter school.

They’ve asked an Oklahoma County judge for an injunction to stop the process of opening the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School.

The group argues in its filing that the school is unlawful because it would discriminate against students by excluding, disciplining or expelling students based on their religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and other characteristics.

They also claim the school would not adequately serve students with disabilities; its plan to teach a religious curriculum violates state law and the state constitution; and its management arrangement with the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City violates board policy.

The claims are based on the state constitution, the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act and the board’s own regulations, which is why the lawsuit was filed in state court. They don’t raise claims against the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from establishing a religion.

National legal advocacy groups Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, Education Law Center and Freedom From Religion Foundation are representing the Oklahoma parents and taxpayers, led by the Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee.

“Religious freedom is the right to believe or not believe as you choose,” said Rachel Laser, president and chief executive officer of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Unfortunately today, emboldened religious extremists are trying to convert this sacred and foundational principle of church-state separation … which is supposed to be a shield to protect us.”

The school would be the nation’s first religiously affiliated school to receive public tax money. Significant national attention is focused on the Oklahoma decision because of the precedent it could set if allowed to continue.

Catholic leaders propose opening the online school for the 2024-25 school year, enrolling students from across the state. It would be operated by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and Diocese of Tulsa and would teach religious tenets similar to private Catholic schools.

The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved St. Isidore on June 5 by a 3-2 vote, over the objection of the state’s attorney general, Gentner Drummond, who said the proposal violates state law and is not in taxpayers’ best interest. Hundreds of public comments were submitted to the board, overwhelmingly against the proposal.

Named as defendants to the lawsuit are the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board; board members Robert Franklin, William Pearson, Nellie Tayloe Sanders, Brian Bobek and Scott Strawn; the State Education Department; Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters; and St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School.

Read the legal challenge against St. Isidore.

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