In a hotly contested decision that is expected to lead to litigation over constitutional limits between church and state, Oklahoma has approved a Catholic-led attempt to open the first publicly funded religious charter school in the United States, Politico reported Tuesday.
With the state's educators and Republicans divided over the issue for months, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board passed the initiative.
"Oklahomans support religious liberty for all and support an increasingly innovative educational system that expands choice. Today, with the nation watching, our state showed that we will not stand for religious discrimination," Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt said.
Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, praised the decision.
"We are elated that the board agreed with our argument and application for the nation's first religious charter school," Farley said. "Parents continue to demand more options for their kids, and we are committed to help provide them."
But the state's Attorney General Gentner Drummond, also a Republican, had a warning.
"The approval of any publicly funded religious school is contrary to Oklahoma law and not in the best interest of taxpayers," Drummond said, Politico reported.
"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."
Rachel Laser, head of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, also vehemently opposed the move.
"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," Laser said. "This is a sea change for American democracy.
"In a country built on the principle of separation of church and state, public schools must never be allowed to become Sunday schools."
Brian Freeman ✉
Brian Freeman, a Newsmax writer based in Israel, has more than three decades writing and editing about culture and politics for newspapers, online and television.
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