On Friday, December 22, 2023, The Oklahoman reported that District Judge Brent Dishman rejected a motion seeking his removal from a case challenging the authorization of St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School as a religious charter school in Oklahoma.

The motion was filed by a group of taxpayers who are suing the state’s decision in October to approve St. Isidore as a charter school. The plaintiffs argued that Dishman should be disqualified due to personal relationships on both sides of the case. Dishman’s sister-in-law co-founded Oklahoma Parent Legislative Advocacy Coalition, one of the plaintiff organizations. Additionally, Dishman serves on the board of College of the Ozarks, a private religious school that previously hired attorneys now representing the defense in a similar church-state case.

However, at a short hearing on Thursday, Dishman declined to recuse himself from deciding the key issues in the taxpayers’ lawsuit against St. Isidore. It remains unclear if the plaintiffs will appeal Dishman’s decision not to step aside to another judge.

The case is one of two legal challenges regarding whether public funds can support the religious charter school. In October, the Oklahoma State Board of Education approved St. Isidore in a 3-2 vote. Subsequently, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond filed a separate lawsuit directly with the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Both cases could ultimately be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court given their implications on the separation of church and state. Attorneys for the taxpayers have long been involved in similar church-state cases. Proponents argue recent court rulings enabled religious charter schools while critics contend taxpayer funding of religious education violates constitutional principles. Dishman will hear arguments to determine the fate of St. Isidore as the nation’s first state-approved religious charter school.


Source: The Oklahoman