June 14, 2023

Gentner Drummond: Approval of Catholic charter school drove a stake in the heart of religious liberty

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It’s not every day that a state attorney general writes an op-ed to call out a state government decision, but Oklahoma is a special place these days. AG Gentner Drummond had previously pointed out that approving a religious charter school was a mistake, and now that they’ve done it anyway, he takes to The Oklahoman op-ed page to say it again. 

The recent decision by the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board to approve the application for what would be the nation’s first publicly funded religious charter school is cause for serious concern.

Sponsors of the proposed new school declare that it will be “Catholic in teaching, Catholic in employment and Catholic in every way.” Supporters hail the approval as a victory for religious liberty.

It is the exact opposite. The board’s vote drove a stake in the heart of religious liberty.

Gentner is a Persian Gulf War veteran and a Republican. And he emphatically does not support the establishment of this Catholic charter school.

Today, the school seeking approval happens to be a widely followed branch of the Christian faith. Tomorrow, the school may be sponsored by a mosque wishing to teach Sharia law, or some other faith that most Oklahomans would find deeply offensive.

The state of Oklahoma would not be free to pick and choose which religions receive state funding. If we fund one religion, we are legally bound to fund them all.

Some supporters of the new religious charter school are unconcerned about this slippery slope. Gov. Kevin Stitt, in a February news conference, plainly said he would be happy to force Christians in Oklahoma to fund non-Christian religious schools. “Am I supportive of the Catholics choosing and going out and setting up a Catholic charter school? 100 percent, I think it’s great,” the governor said. “Just like if the Jewish community wanted to set up a charter school, or the Muslim community.”

I couldn’t disagree more. The clear result of this approach is to compel Muslim Oklahomans to fund Christian and Jewish schools, force Jewish Oklahomans to fund Christian and Muslim schools, and mandate that Oklahomans of no faith must fund religious schools for all faiths. There is no “religious freedom” in compelling Oklahomans to fund religions that may violate their own deeply held beliefs. The framers of the U.S. 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.

I have a solemn obligation as attorney general to uphold those founding documents. The establishment of a public school that teaches Catholicism, or any other faith, infringes on the rights of all taxpayers of all faiths and clearly violates the U.S. Constitution and the Oklahoma Constitution. The law simply does not allow for a religious school to be funded with public dollars.

The lawsuits are already under way. Read Drummond’s full op-ed here. 

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