Nicole Stelle Garnett Comments on Oklahoma AG Permitting Religious Charter Schools
"On Thursday, December 1, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor issued an opinion letter concluding that the state’s laws prohibiting religious charter schools are unconstitutional.
"O'Connor is right, and other states ought to follow Oklahoma's lead. All 44 states with charter schools require them to be secular, and many, including Oklahoma, also prohibit them from being affiliated with religious institutions. This is religious discrimination, plain and simple, which the Supreme Court has made clear is unconstitutional. As the Court held earlier this year in Carson v. Makin, '[a] state need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.'
"Although states call charter schools 'public schools,' charter schools are privately operated and enjoy significant autonomy from government interference. Those two things combined places charter schools squarely within the holding of Carson. As the opinion letter aptly explains, 'the state cannot enlist private organizations to 'promote a diversity of educational choices,' and then decide that any and every kind of religion is the wrong kind of diversity. That is not how the First Amendment works.'
"Religious charter schools ought to be welcomed by education reformers. Permitting them will enhance educational pluralism and give parents more options for their children."
- Nicole Stelle Garnett is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Lost Classroom, Lost Community: Catholic Schools' Importance in Urban America as well as numerous articles on education policy, urban development, and land-use planning.
To book an interview with Professor Garnett, please email Nicolas Abouchedid at firstname.lastname@example.org.