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Public funds for religious charter school would be unconstitutional, Oklahoma high court says

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Public funds for religious charter school would be unconstitutional, Oklahoma high court says
News

News

Public funds for religious charter school would be unconstitutional, Oklahoma high court says

2024-06-26 02:33 Last Updated At:02:41

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday stopped what would have been the first publicly funded religious charter school in the U.S., turning back conservatives and the state's GOP governor who have welcomed religious groups into public education.

The high court determined the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board's 3-2 vote last year to approve an application by the Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma for the St. Isidore of Seville Virtual Charter School violates the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” The ruling also says both the Oklahoma and U.S. constitutions, as well as state law, were violated.

The case is being closely watched because supporters of the school believe recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have indicated the court is more open to public funds going to religious entities.

Conservative-led states have targeted public schools: Louisiana required them to post the Ten Commandments in classrooms, while others are under pressure to teach the Bible and ban books and lessons about race, sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Under Oklahoma law, a charter school is a public school,” Justice James Winchester, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Frank Keating, wrote in the court's majority opinion. "As such, a charter school must be nonsectarian.

“However, St. Isidore will evangelize the Catholic school curriculum while sponsored by the state.”

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and Diocese of Tulsa said in a statement they will “consider all legal options” in response to the court's ruling.

The court's decision was 7-1, with one member concurring in part and one member, Chief Justice John Kane IV, recusing himself. Justice Dana Kuehn dissented.

Five of Oklahoma's nine Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republicans, four by Democrats.

In her dissent, Kuehn wrote that excluding St. Isidore from operating a charter school based solely on its religious affiliation would violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Oklahoma Constitution does not bar Oklahoma from contracting with religious schools as long as state-funded, nonreligious options are available, Kuehn wrote.

Oklahoma's Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who urged the board not to approve the contract, had asked the state's high court to intervene and rule on the case. He praised the court's decision.

“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.

The K-12 online public charter school was set to start classes for its first 200 enrollees in the fall, with part of its mission to evangelize its students in the Catholic faith. The archdiocese is seeking guidance from attorneys on whether to open, said Brett Farley, the executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma.

A group of Oklahoma parents, faith leaders and a public education nonprofit sued to stop the establishment of the school.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who supported the board's decision, said he was disappointed Drummond challenged it and remained hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court would consider the case.

“I’m concerned we’ve sent a troubling message that religious groups are second-class participants in our education system,” Stitt said in a statement. “Charter schools are incredibly popular in Oklahoma – and all we’re saying is: we can’t choose who gets state dollars based on a private entity’s religious status.”

FILE - Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond stands during the playing of the national anthem at the inauguration ceremonies, Jan. 9, 2023, in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, June 25, 2024, that the approval of the nation's first state-funded Catholic charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School, is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

FILE - Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond stands during the playing of the national anthem at the inauguration ceremonies, Jan. 9, 2023, in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, June 25, 2024, that the approval of the nation's first state-funded Catholic charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School, is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

FILE - The Oklahoma Supreme Court is pictured in the state Capitol building in Oklahoma City, May 19, 2014. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, June 25, 2024, that the approval of the nation's first state-funded Catholic charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School, is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

FILE - The Oklahoma Supreme Court is pictured in the state Capitol building in Oklahoma City, May 19, 2014. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, June 25, 2024, that the approval of the nation's first state-funded Catholic charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School, is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — This year, Ukraine’s largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Instead, the country’s most beloved local artists graced the stage this past weekend at the Atlas Festival. The stage was erected on a shopping mall parking lot, the only option that contained a shelter large enough to contain the 25,000 people that that organizers expected in the event of an air raid.

Carefree youth rubbed shoulders with hardened military commanders and famous singers who crooned songs imbued with national pride. Music was the main draw, yes, but so was shattering the illusion that the capital is invulnerable to the bloody battles playing out hundreds of miles away.

“Such kind of festivals can’t be separated from the life of the country. The country is at war. The core issues here should relate to the war,” said Vsevolod Kozhemyako, a businessman and one of the founders of the 13th “Khartia” Brigade, now a part of Ukraine’s National Guard and defending the frontline in Kharkiv.

“People who are still young and who don’t join (the fight) should understand that they cannot live in a bubble,” he said.

And yet, a bubble is precisely how it feels to be in Kyiv, as the war approaches its third year. While Ukrainian soldiers are killed and wounded everyday along the snaking 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) frontline in the east, the capital is a contrast with its bars and clubs filled with patrons.

Every so often, Kyiv comes face to face with the war. Last week, a barrage of Russian missiles destroyed a children’s hospital and a private clinic, in one of the deadliest attacks since the full-scale invasion. Residents have grappled with power cuts caused by Moscow’s targeted destruction of Ukrainian energy generation at the height of a summer heat wave.

At every corner of the music festival - the first time it was held since Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country in February 2022 - visitors were confronted with the inescapable reality that theirs is a country trapped in a bloody war of attrition. Festival organizers hoped to raise $2.2 million (2 million euros) to help soldiers purchase supplies on the front line.

In the mall’s basement parking lot, various military units, from Khartia to the 3rd Assault, offered interactive games to lure donations, and possible recruits. First-person shooter game offered visitors a chance to improve target practice by gunning down shadowy virtual infantrymen. At another corner, medics brandished severed plastic limbs and offered emergency medical training.

The festival concluded Sunday with a much-anticipated performance from Serhii Zhadan and his band Zhadan and Dogs. Zhadan, a celebrated artist dubbed the poet of the Donbas, himself recently joined Khartia.

“It’s just a small break, an opportunity to take a breath,” said Zhadan, minutes before the crowd roared before he took to the stage. “The most important things, they are happening over there, at the frontline.”

On stage, Zhadan starts with one of his most beloved songs “Malvi” or “Mallow.” The crowd sings along with him, word for word. “But what can you do with my hot blood,” they chant as one mass chorus. “Who will come at us.”

18-year old Viktoriia Khalis was excited to see his performance, she said. She had been to the Atlas music festival once before in 2021. The difference is stark, she said.

“The main thing that has changed, unfortunately, now the festival is connected with donations,” she said. But she also feels more connected to her homeland, somehow. “I feel this entire crowd is related to me. I feel unity.”

She was scared there would be another Russian air attack – a music festival with thousands of attendees would be a prime target – but said she couldn’t miss a chance to see her favorite artists.

For Nadiia Dorofeeva, one of Ukraine’s most famous singers, every concert feels different. “Before, when I entered a stage I was thinking only about if I looked good, sang well and if the people got what they came for. But now, I dream of having no air alarms, I am seeing how people cry at my concerts.”

One of Dorofeeva’s songs, “WhatsApp” is about a girl waiting for her beloved to return from war. “She washed the phone with tears/Like rainy glass,” often moves listeners to tears.

Among the attendees was Lt. Gen. Serhii Naiev, an assistant deputy chief in Ukraine’s General Staff.

“There are well known artists on stage, they are performing their concerts and there are a lot of Ukrainians around who are donating their money, much needed money for the armed forces of Ukraine,” he said.

“We understand that our partners are supporting us, but we also understand that we could do a lot by ourselves, to be stronger,” he said.

Follow AP's coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Serhii Zhadan, well-known Ukrainian writer and poet, leader of music band Zhadan and Dogs, performs at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

Serhii Zhadan, well-known Ukrainian writer and poet, leader of music band Zhadan and Dogs, performs at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People with painted faces go to the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People with painted faces go to the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People enjoy a concert at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People enjoy a concert at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People dance waiting for the start of the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People dance waiting for the start of the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

Serhii Zhadan, well-known Ukrainian writer and poet, leader of music band Zhadan and Dogs, performs at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

Serhii Zhadan, well-known Ukrainian writer and poet, leader of music band Zhadan and Dogs, performs at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People enjoy a concert at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People enjoy a concert at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People enjoy a concert at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People enjoy a concert at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People enjoy a concert at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

People enjoy a concert at the Atlas Festival in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, July 21, 2024. This year, Ukraine's largest music festival struck a different chord. Gone were the international headliners, the massive performance halls and the hundreds of thousands of visitors. (AP Photo/Anton Shtuka)

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