Nora De La Cour: Religious Charter Schools Undermine the Foundations of Public Education
Nora De La Cour, writing for Jacobin, explains what is at stake with the creation of the first religious charter school.
Weeks before the Supreme Court elevated religious free exercise over the Establishment Clause by ruling that Maine’s town tuitioning program could not bar private schools from putting taxpayer money to religious uses, attorney and leading education policy scholar Kevin Welner made a prediction: such an outcome in Carson v. Makin, he argued, would act as an invitation for church-run charter schools.
Sure enough, Oklahoma’s virtual charter board (with two new right-wing appointees) voted in June to grant a charter for St Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School (SISCVS), which will be operated by the archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the diocese of Tulsa. This month the board approved the school’s contract, bringing it one step closer to furthering the “evangelizing mission of the Church” on Oklahoma taxpayers’ dime. But the board’s chairman is currently refusing to sign the contract — demonstrating the high level of contention surrounding SISCVS within the conservative Bible Belt state.
A religious charter school runs afoul of both the Oklahoma Constitution and the Oklahoma Charter Schools Act — to say nothing of the US Constitution’s promise of church/state separation. While Oklahoma’s Republican governor Kevin Stitt has been among the school’s most avid cheerleaders (along with the state’s previous attorney general), current attorney general Gentner Drummond — also a Republican — has vehemently opposed SISCVS, asserting that “Christian nationalism is the movement that is giving oxygen to this attempt to eviscerate the Establishment Clause.”
In the SISCVS charter application, the archdiocese of Oklahoma City states that the school “will operate in harmony with faith and morals, including sexual morality, as taught and understood by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.” Instruction will assist parents in “forming and cultivating” children who believe, among other things, “that God created persons male and female,” and that if we “reject God’s invitation,” we will “end up in hell.”
In response to Drummond’s charge that the school appears intent on violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the archdiocese insists it is “committed to providing a school environment that is free from unlawful discrimination, harassment, and retaliation” (emphasis added). But, emboldened by Supreme Court rulings subordinating antidiscrimination laws to religious free exercise, they suggest that these practices are lawful when they’re required by faith.