Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt applauded the board approval of St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School on Monday, calling its approval for public funding a "win for religious liberty." File Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo
June 5 (UPI) -- Oklahoma approved the first religious public charter school in the country on Monday, allowing St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School to be publicly funded.
The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted 3-2 in favor of approving the school's application. The school is operated under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa.
The board made its decision Monday in spite of the advice from legal counsel, The New York Times reports. The decision will broaden the debate over the use of state tax dollars for religiously affiliated education options. That debate has been opened up with other states legalizing so-called "voucher programs" this year, including in Iowa and Florida.
There are other religious schools that receive some funding through public tax dollars, but St. Isidore will be the first to be fully funded this way.
At least one organization has said it will take legal action against the state of Oklahoma. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit organization that advocates against associating religion and religious organizations with the government, announced it intends to take action shortly after the application was approved.
"It's hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families than the state establishing the nation's first religious public charter school," Rachel Laser, president and CEO of the organization, said in a statement.
"This is a sea change for American democracy. Americans United will work with our Oklahoma and national partners to take all possible legal action to fight this decision and defend the separation of church and state that's promised in both the Oklahoma and U.S. Constitutions."
The approval has received mixed reactions from state officials, including from the state's attorney general Gentner Drummond. He said using public tax dollars to fund a religious school is unconstitutional.
"The approval of any publicly funded religious school is contrary to Oklahoma law and not in the best interest of taxpayers," Drummond said in a statement. "It's extremely disappointing that board members violated their oath in order to fund religious schools with our tax dollars. In doing so, these members have exposed themselves and the State to potential legal action that could be costly."
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt said he supports the approval, calling it a "win for religious liberty."
"Oklahomans support religious liberty for all and support an increasingly innovative educational system that expands choice," Stitt said in a statement. "Today, with the nation watching, our state showed that we will not stand for religious discrimination."