By Jasper Ward

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the state’s approval of a publicly funded religious charter school is unconstitutional.

The ruling follows a decision last year by an Oklahoma school board to approve the Catholic Church’s application to create the first taxpayer-funded religious charter school in the U.S. The state’s attorney general then took the matter to court.

“St. Isidore will evangelize the Catholic faith as part of its school curriculum while sponsored by the state,” the court said.

The state’s constitution mandates that public schools, including charter schools, be nonsectarian and prohibits the use of public money for the benefit or support of religious institutions.

As a result, according to the court, the establishment of St. Isidore, which would have cost taxpayers up to $25.7 million over its first five years of operation, violates the state and federal law.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said the state’s top court’s decision was “a tremendous victory for religious liberty.”

“The framers of the U.S. Constitution and those who drafted Oklahoma’s Constitution clearly understood how best to protect religious freedom: by preventing the State from sponsoring any religion at all,” Drummond said in a statement.

Church officials previously said they hope the case will reach the U.S. Supreme Court, where a 6-3 conservative majority has taken an expansive view of religious rights, including in two rulings since 2020 concerning schools in Maine and Montana.

(Reporting by Jasper Ward; editing by Donna Bryson and Bill Berkrot)