Catholic School is Sued for Teaching Catholic Dogma


Lawsuit fighting Catholic charter school advances
By : Nuria Martinez-Keel//Oklahoma Voice//June 6, 2024//

District Judge Richard Ogden said the coalition of public school parents, faith leaders and advocates sufficiently presented a cause of action to sue the school and the state agencies enabling it.

“This is not making any type of ruling regarding substantive arguments,” Ogden said after he announced his decision.

The case will continue to a three-day hearing July 24-26 over a request to block the school from opening or receiving state funds.

St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School would be the first publicly funded religious charter school in the nation, if its opening isn’t stopped. The virtual charter school has had hundreds of families apply to enroll as it prepares for its first day of school on Aug. 12.

The lawsuit contends the concept of a state-funded school that teaches Catholicism violates the Oklahoma Constitution and state laws that prohibit public schools from adopting any religion.

It alleges the school’s religious doctrine will lead to discrimination against LGBTQ+ students and staff and that its founding documents fail to show how it would adequately accommodate students with disabilities.

Attorneys from Americans United for Separation of Church and State led the plaintiffs’ legal team during the hearing.

“This school is not appropriate for all students, so it should not get public funds,” said Alex Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal director for Americans United.

The judge dismissed a claim from the plaintiffs that St. Isidore didn’t properly submit a pledge to follow nondiscrimination requirements. Ogden indicated the plaintiffs didn’t have the proper grounds to challenge the school on that issue.

However, he allowed other claims of potential discrimination to proceed.

“We feel like we’re not losing that much by losing the first claim,” Luchenitser said after the hearing.

The central issue of the case is whether charter schools are public or private entities. Charter schools chiefly rely on state funding and must abide by similar regulations as traditional public schools, such as state accreditation standards and open meetings laws.

However, attorneys for the defense contend charter schools are privately operated and are designed to be separate from government control. They have more flexibility in lesson plans, school calendars and requirements for teacher qualifications.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is expected to rule on the public vs. private issue. Attorney General Gentner Drummond gave oral arguments to the Court against the Catholic school in April in a separate, but similar, case.

Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Philip Sechler defended the school’s concept to the state Supreme Court and at the Oklahoma County Courthouse on Wednesday.

Sechler is representing the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, which approved the creation of the state-funded Catholic school in a 3-2 vote last year. The board and the Oklahoma State Department of Education are defendants in the case, along with the school.

“We think the Supreme Court knows the timing of the opening of St. Isidore,” Sechler said. “And so, that’s why we expect the Court is going to rule fairly imminently on the pending matter.”

Defense attorneys argued during Wednesday’s hearing that the plaintiffs haven’t established that anyone has been – or will be – harmed by the school, especially because it hasn’t opened yet.

St. Isidore committed to abide by all state and federal laws to the extent that Catholic teachings allow. Students of any background, faith, sexual orientation and gender identity are welcome at the school, defense attorneys said.

Denying public education funds to St. Isidore because it is Catholic would violate the free exercise of religion, said Scott Proctor, an attorney representing the school.

“This is making abundantly clear we’re going to follow the law, and the applicable law includes those religious protections,” Proctor said during the court hearing.

Oklahomans don’t have to wait until after a discrimination case emerges to take the matter to court, said Sarah Taitz, a legal fellow from Americans United. She said St. Isidore is already in the process of enrolling students and hiring employees under “exclusionary” policies.

“Taxpayers have a right to not have their tax dollars spent this way,” Taitz told the judge.