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Oklahoma attorney general withraws opinion enabling religious charter schools

Oklahoma attorney general Gentner Drummond
Oklahoma attorney general Gentner Drummond
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Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond (R) withdrew an opinion issued by his predecessor that enabled state-funded religious schools.

The opinion was originally issued by former Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor (R) in December 2022 in response to a request from Rebecca Wilkinson, the executive director of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board.

“Religious liberty is one of our most fundamental freedoms,” Drummond wrote in a letter to Wilkinson announcing his withdrawal of the opinion. “It allows us to worship according to our faith, and to be free from any duty that may conflict with our faith. The opinion as issued by my predecessor misuses the concept of religious liberty by employing it as a means to justify state-funded religion.”

Drummond noted that charter schools are public schools that get state funding, a position he said is in line with state law and the state constitution.

According to Drummond, O'Connor's opinion wrongly said that Oklahoma taxpayer dollars could be used to fund religious charter schools.

The Statewide Virtual Charter Board is currently considering an application for a religious virtual charter school in Oklahoma City. Drummond said that approval of an application that is overtly religious in its teachings and operations will set a "dangerous precedent."

“While many Oklahomans undoubtedly support charter schools sponsored by various Christian faiths, the precedent created by approval of the application will compel approval of similar applications by all faiths,” Drummond wrote. “I doubt most Oklahomans would want their tax dollars to fund a religious school whose tenets are diametrically opposed to their own faith. Unfortunately, the approval of a charter school by one faith will compel the approval of charter schools by all faiths, even those most Oklahomans would consider reprehensible and unworthy of public funding.”

Drummond's opinion comes in the wake of the Archdioceses of Oklahoma City and Tulsa proposing a Catholic online charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, to Oklahoma's Statewide Virtual Charter School Board on Feb. 14.

According to Ken Malloy, attorney and executive director of the Oklahoma Center for Constitutional Analysis, Drummond's opinion puts him out of step with the Supreme Court.

In his view, "the mere fact that they're religious, you cannot discriminate against them on that basis. And, I will be honest, this is a shocking new development."

He further added that, "[if] Oklahoma said we're only going to fund Christian religions, we'd be in trouble. But if we fund Christian religions along with Jewish religions along with Muslim religions, that would be perfectly constitutional."

Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) released the following statement in response to Drummond's opinion:

"Today, AG Drummond exercised the power of his office to withdraw an opinion handed down by his predecessor regarding state funding for religious schools. Among other reasons for withdrawal, the attorney general stated that the opinion 'misuses the concept of religious liberty by employing it as a means to justify state-funded religion.' AG Drummond was well within his powers to withdraw a previous legal opinion, and today's action demonstrates just how important full passage of the House's Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act will be for Oklahoma parents and students. The Act will provide an avenue for parents to use their own hard earned money to spend on an education for their child that is of their choosing, and it provides for less government intrusion into local districts and the personal lives and finances of Oklahomans.

Today's action shows how critical it is to provide Oklahomans with a well thought out, logical approach to school choice that will benefit everyone equally and limit the potential for waste, fraud and abuse. The Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act does all of those things, and more, and will allow parents affected by today's decision to continue providing the education of their choosing for their children."

Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters issued the following comment in response to Drummond's move:

“Oklahoma parents should have the choice to send their children to schools of faith. It’s disappointing that the AG opinion has reversed a needed and positive direction to allow religious charter schools in Oklahoma. My administration will do everything possible to promote the freedom of choice that parents should have in choosing their child's education."

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City declined Fox 25's request for comment on Drummond's opinion.

The Archdiocese of Tulsa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read Drummond's full letter by clicking here.

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