‘Keeping Parochial Schools in Check’

News: US News
by Martina Moyski  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 13, 2023   

Oklahoma nixes Catholic online charter school

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The efforts of Catholic leaders to establish an online charter school were shot down in the Sooner State this week.

St. Isidore of Seville

The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board unanimously voted against the joint application of the archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the diocese of Tulsa for public funding of the school. The school, named after St. Isidore of Seville, the patron saint of the internet, would have been a first of its kind in the country.

In a statement to Church Militant on Wednesday, Trey Trainor said, "The denial of the Church's application just speaks to a continuation of the underpinnings of government denying the Church's participation in education and keeping parochial schools in check." 

The constitutional law expert believes the nay-saying of the board is a continuation of the lingering ill effects of separating parochial and public education, i.e., separating Church and State. 

Currently, Oklahoma law forbids religious charter schools, but supporters of the proposed charter had been encouraged by recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that appeared to chip away at the distinction between Church and State.

They cannot prohibit a religious institution from participating.

For example, in 2022, the court sided with two Christian families who challenged a Maine tuition assistance program that excluded private religious schools. And in 2020, the court endorsed Montana tax credits that helped pay for students to attend religious schools.

Forward to 58:44 for public comments on public funds for religious charter schools

Executive Director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma Brett Farley zeroed in on those cases, believing they could help pave the way for St. Isidore's school. He said, "[T]he Supreme Court was very clear in their opinion that when a state offers broadly a program that's backed by state or federal funding, they cannot prohibit a religious institution from participating in that program simply because they're religious."

Where are the guardrails?

Others looked to the support of Oklahoma's GOP governor, Kevin Stitt, who framed the measure in terms of how parents want to educate their children if they choose something other than public education. 

"Ultimately, government takes a back seat to parents who get to determine the best learning environment for their child," he said.

Vocal Opposition

Farley and other supporters of St. Isidore faced plenty of opposition.

Rachel Laser

In February, Rachel Laser, CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was quoted as saying: "Instances like this where we would face the unprecedented event for the first time where a public school could turn into a Sunday school, we need to recommit to the separation of church and state." 

And immediately preceding the school board vote, one person who identified herself as a pastor indicated she supported one's right to abstain from religion as much as she supported one's right to adhere to a religion.

Another person who identified himself as a Catholic told the board he couldn't condone the measure because of clerical sex abuse.

"Where are the guardrails?" he asked the board. "I'm from Kansas City, Missouri. We had a child molestation ring of priests up there for almost 30 years. It got moved around from one school to another. Where are your guardrails?"

Continuing the Fight

Despite this week's defeat, the five-member board gave the archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the diocese of Tulsa 30 days to revise their plan. 

"This is far from over," Farley declared, indicating he's up for a fight.

This is far from over.

Many are seeing, along with Farley, that the debate is indeed far from over, one that promises to galvanize the nation's attention.

Both those for and against will continue to debate a complex array of issues, including who gets taxpayer money, what compromises come with the money, and how to ensure the best learning environments for American children.

--- Campaign 31538 ---


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