An Oklahoma school board has approved what will be the first publicly funded religious charter school in the US.
The Oklahoma State Virtual Charter School Board approved the Catholic charter school by 3-2 in a vote on Monday.
The charter school would be run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa.
The state attorney general called the approval “unconstitutional” and warned it could lead to costly legal action.
A charter school is funded by taxpayers but independently managed. Charter schools are a small fraction of the US school system.
St Isidore of Seville Virtual Catholic Charter School would bring religious teachings into its curriculum, including subjects like reading and maths.
The online school would open in late 2024 at the earliest, initially to 500 students from kindergarten through to high school.
The board rejected the school’s first application in April, citing legal concerns, and they asked for a new application addressing the areas of concerns.
The 400-page application said it aimed “to educate the entire child: soul, heart, intellect and body”.
It was anticipated $23.3m (£18.7m) in state funding would be required over the school’s first five years.
Brett Farley, the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, said: “We are elated that the board agreed with our argument and application for the nation’s first religious charter school.”
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 criticised 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”.
A legal fight could test the first amendment’s “establishment clause” of the US constitution, which prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion”.
The clause also bans the government from enacting policies that favour one religion over any other.
Under long-established legal criteria, known as the Lemon test, the government can only assist religions if the primary purpose is secular, assistance does neither promote nor inhibit religion and there is no excessive entanglement between church and state.
The US Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, has expanded religious rights in recent years, including in cases involving schools in Maine and Montana.
Source : BBC