Wednesday, June 07, 2023

First Christian Charter School Approved

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The New York Times reports, "Oklahoma approved what would be the nation’s first religious charter school on Monday, handing a victory to Christian conservatives but opening the door to a constitutional battle over whether taxpayer dollars can directly fund religious schools."

Be informed, not misled.

The Times says, "The online school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, is to be run by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa, with religious teachings embedded in the curriculum."

But as a charter school — a type of public school that is independently managed — it would be funded by taxpayer dollars.

After a nearly three-hour meeting, and despite concerns raised by its legal counsel, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved the school in a 3-to-2 vote, including a yes vote from a member who was appointed on Friday. The relatively obscure board is made up of appointees by Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican who supports religious charter schools, and leaders of the Republican-controlled State Legislature.

The decision sets the stage for a high-profile legal fight over the barrier or "wall" between church and state in education at a time when other aspects of public education are being challenged.

Parents are still boiling over the battle for parents' rights regarding secret transgender surgeries and abortions. 

The Times says, "Republican lawmakers, including in Oklahoma, have increasingly pushed for alternatives to public schools, such as vouchers and tax credits, which offer subsidies to parents to help pay for private tuition, often at religious schools."

The Church body making the application says its goal is to "educate the entire child: soul, heart, intellect, and body."

The school's first application was rejected by the governing state board. They asked for a new application that addressed their concerns. 

Some are celebrating--some not so much.

Republican Governor Kevin Stitt celebrated the school's approval, calling it "a win for religious liberty and education freedom in our great state."

"Oklahomans support religious liberty for all and support an increasingly innovative educational system that expands choice," he said.

But Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond criticized it in a statement on Monday as "contrary to Oklahoma law."

"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."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State - a non-profit advocacy group - said in a statement they plan to "take all possible legal action to fight this decision and defend the separation of church and state that's promised in both the Oklahoma and US Constitutions."

Is it really "promised" in the Constitution?

The notion of "separation of church and state" has taken on a very different tone than the letter Thomas Jefferson received from the Danbury Baptist Association on October 7, 1801, and the letter they received from him on January 1, 1802.

Jefferson actually borrowed his "separation" phrase from Roger Williams, a London pastor who greatly influenced the Colonies in favor of religious liberty.

Is "separation of church and state" in the Constitution?

David Barton is one of the best-informed biblical historians in America.

He says this about "separation:" 

Thomas Jefferson had worked very hard to separate the Anglican Church from the government in his home state of Virginia so that all other denominations could practice their faith without government penalty or persecution. Jefferson contributed to ending government-run religion in his state, so when he became president of the United States, the Baptists and those from other denominations were his strong supporters because he had fought for their freedom of religion – for their right to be free from state control in matters of faith.

The Danbury Baptists wrote Thomas Jefferson expressing their concern that the government might try to regulate their religious expression. In response, Jefferson wrote his now famous letter, using the phrase “Separation of Church and State” to reassure the Danbury Baptists that the First Amendment prohibited the government from trying to control religious expression. In short, the First Amendment was intended to keep the government out of regulating religion, but it did not keep religion out of government or the public square.

Today, people believe that the “separation of Church and State” is in the First Amendment of the Constitution. But in the First Amendment, the Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law…”

The First Amendment says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The famous separation phrase appears nowhere in that Amendment, or in the Constitution.

So we must ask the question: How does a student praying over his lunch mean the same thing as Congress making a law? The answer: it doesn’t. The First Amendment meant Congress is limited from setting up a national denomination and Congress is limited from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The First Amendment does not limit faith or the people, only the government.

The First Amendment was created by America’s Founders because of their desire to avoid something like the government-run Church of England. In fact, it was not just the government of England they longed to be different from, but they were also striving to be different from the way that churches and government had operated across most of Europe for the previous thousand years, for most nations at that time had state-established and state-controlled churches.

The Pilgrims, Puritans, and others who settled America wanted to return to God’s original plan of separating the church from government control. That long-standing American desire and practice of freedom of religion was specifically written in the First Amendment.


This matter of America's first religious charter school will soon be dominating the news. Remember:

Barton says, 

It has only been in recent years that faith has been excluded from public schools, governmental venues, and the public square. Did we just invent separation of church and state? No, the phrase has existed since centuries before Jefferson, but today its meaning has been taken out of context and twisted to mean something entirely different.

This first happened in 1947 when the Supreme Court quoted only one phrase from Jefferson’s short 1801 letter to the Danbury Baptists. The Court claimed that there was to be “a wall of separation between Church and State” and that religious activities could no longer occur in the public square. 8 They took the intent and clear purpose of Jefferson’s letter completely out of context. They did not show his short letter of only three paragraphs and 233 words which contained all the context and explanation but rather lifted a 8-word phrase out of it and remained silent on the rest.

Next time you hear someone claim religion has no place in public because of the “wall of separation,” I hope you’ll remember a few of the key pieces of history that many today have forgotten.

Be Informed. Be Vigilant. Be Discerning. Be Engaged. Be Prayerful.