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Oklahoma's Christian Charter School is an Attempt to Abolish the Wall Between Church & State

In a victory for Christian nationalists last week, Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved a proposal to create the nation's first religious charter school. Under the plan, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School would open in the fall of 2024 with up to 500 students from across the state. The curriculum would include religious instruction. The school would be run by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa, but would be paid for with state tax dollars.

Oklahoma's Republican Governor Kevin Stitt applauded the school's approval, calling it "a win for religious liberty and education freedom in our great state". However, the state's Republican attorney general called the approval "unconstitutional" and warned it would lead to costly legal action.

Just a few years ago, a Catholic-run, taxpayer-funded charter school would have seemed absurd; a clear violation of the Constitution's "establishment clause" which prohibits the government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion." In the case Lemon v. Kurtzman, the Court held in 1971 that the establishment clause means that the government can not create laws or regulations that promote religion, inhibit religion or foster excessive entanglement with religion.

The "Lemon test" has been on shaky ground for decades and the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court has already demonstrated in a series of cases that they would like to see fewer restrictions on how government assists religious institutions.

The Conversation: "A majority of today’s justices tend to favor an “accommodationists” interpretation of the First Amendment, meaning they largely reject the idea that it demands a “wall of separation” between church and state, so long as the government is not privileging one faith over another."

Oklahoma's decision to fund the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School will be challenged in the courts as a violation of the establishment clause.

New York Times: "Within minutes of the vote, Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced that it was preparing legal action to fight the decision."
“It’s hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families,” said Rachel Laser, the group’s president and chief executive. “This is a sea change for American democracy.”

The most likely outcome of a court challenge would be that lower federal courts will block the funding leading to an appeal to the US Supreme Court. That appeal just might be the case that the Court uses to finally overrule the "Lemon test," allowing for much greater government involvement in our spiritual lives. That is precisely what the framers of the Constitution meant to prevent as Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out in his dissent in the case Carson v. Makin, quoting James Madison.

Breyer/James Madison: “[C]ompelled taxpayer sponsorship of religion ‘is itself a signal of persecution,’ which ‘will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion, has produced amongst its several sects.’”

By: Don Lam & Curated Content

#religion #constitution #law #culture #politics

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