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Nation’s first publicly funded religious charter school blocked by Oklahoma Supreme Court

<i>Sue Ogrocki/AP via CNN Newsource</i><br />The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the approval of the nation's first state-funded Catholic charter school
Sue Ogrocki/AP via CNN Newsource
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the approval of the nation's first state-funded Catholic charter school

By Andy Rose, CNN

(CNN) — An effort to establish the first publicly funded religious charter school in the country has been blocked by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The court Tuesday ordered the state to rescind its contract with St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School in a 6-2 decision with one recusal.

“Under Oklahoma law, a charter school is a public school,” wrote Justice James R. Winchester for the court. “As such, a charter school must be nonsectarian. However, St. Isidore will evangelize the Catholic faith as part of its school curriculum while sponsored by the State.”

A charter contract for St. Isidore was approved by a state board last year.

Charter schools in Oklahoma are privately owned but receive state funding under the same guidelines as government-operated public schools.

The fight over the school exposed a fault line between two of the state’s top Republican politicians. Gov. Kevin Stitt strongly advocated for the school, saying when the contract was approved that it was “a win for religious liberty and education freedom in our state.”

But the school’s charter status was strongly opposed by Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who filed the lawsuit against it and predicted the state could be forced to fund other types of religious education if St. Isidore succeeded.

“The framers of the US Constitution and those who drafted Oklahoma’s Constitution clearly understood how best to protect religious freedom: by preventing the State from sponsoring any religion at all,” Drummond said in a statement Tuesday. “Now Oklahomans can be assured that our tax dollars will not fund the teachings of Sharia Law or even Satanism.”

CNN asked Stitt’s office Tuesday for comment on the Supreme Court decision.

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the decision, saying, “Charter schools are public schools that must be secular and serve all students. St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, which plans to discriminate against students, families, and staff and indoctrinate students into one religion, cannot operate as a public charter school.”

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City is “disappointed in today’s ruling as it disregards the needs of many families in Oklahoma who only desire a choice in their child’s education,” its senior director for education Lara Schuler said in a written statement Tuesday. “We will remain steadfast as we seek to right this wrong and to join Oklahoma’s great diversity of charter schools serving all families in the state.”

“St. Isidore is considering its legal options but today’s decision to condone unconstitutional discrimination against religious educators and the children they serve is one that the school will continue to fight,” said John Meiser of the University of Notre Dame’s Religious Liberty Clinic, who assisted St. Isidore with its charter application to the state.

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CNN’s Taylor Romine and Elizabeth Joseph contributed to this report.

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