Skip to content

SOHAIL: Erosion of establishment clause should concern you

Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted to provide state funding to St. Isidore Seville Catholic Virtual School but should have considered the Establishment Clause. – Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm /

The First Amendment states that "Congress make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise." These words form the Establishment Clause, an integral part of the First Amendment of the Constitution and the basis for ensuring government impartiality toward religions, which is fading before our eyes.

On June 5, 2023, the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board voted to grant St. Isidore Seville Catholic Virtual School state funding, despite the fact it follows the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which discriminates against people who are disabled, non-Catholic or part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Upon reading the lawsuit materials and motion to dismiss filed by the defendant, I was certain that the appropriation of state funds to St. Isidore violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. After all, the school made it abundantly clear that it would comply "with all applicable state … laws and statutes to the extent the teachings of the Catholic Church allow."

Yet, upon looking further into recent opinions by the Court, such as the trilogy Trinity Lutheran, Espinoza and Carson, I noticed a gradual shift away from the longstanding "wall of separation" between church and state. At this point, it seems almost inevitable that St. Isidore's approval for state funding will be upheld.

To understand why the Court's recent behavior is unusual and dangerous and how St. Isidore will continue to receive state funding, it is important to understand the legal principle of stare decisis and why the Establishment Clause was created.

Stare decisis dictates that all courts should adhere to precedent, meaning decisions made in earlier cases should guide rulings in future similar cases to ensure consistency and respect for prior decisions made by the Court.

The Establishment Clause reflects the Founding Fathers' commitment to maintaining religious freedom by preventing the government from favoring any specific religion. They wanted to avoid the conflicts and tensions that had plagued Europe for centuries prior to America’s founding.

By using stare decisis to maintain the clause and the separation of church and state, the government protects individuals from interference in matters of faith and ensures that everyone has the right to be as religious — or irreligious — as they see fit.

In the context of St. Isidore reaching the Court, stare decisis will lead the justices to examine past rulings related to government funding of religious institutions and the endorsement of state religion.

The problem is, in the past decade, the Court has been inching ever-so-closely toward endorsing a state religion under the guise of protecting the free exercise clause also found in the First Amendment: "Congress make no law … prohibiting its free exercise."

Particularly, the "Free Exercise Trilogy" has created a shield against any attempts to block a religion from receiving state funding, and this trilogy was a focal point of St. Isidore's argument in its motion to dismiss the ACLU lawsuit.

Considering the current makeup of the Court, with 6 of the 9 justices being ideologically conservative and Catholic, the Court will likely rule in favor of religious institutions, contrary to the earlier understanding of strict separation the Court had held in the mid-1950s.

It is crucial to recognize that such a move will be perceived as the government endorsing or favoring Catholicism, which directly contradicts the notion of religious neutrality essential to American democracy.

St. Isidore, as a charter school, has been unabashedly discriminatory in its application for funding and mission statement. It will only educate students with the assumption that the students will follow the teachings of the Catholic faith, eliminating the fundamental "public" feature of public education.

Additionally, the school is unafraid to state that students will "end up in hell," if they "reject God's invitation."

Pursuant to their policies, it is clear that a Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or even atheist student would likely be unable to attend St. Isidore without facing intense discrimination or expulsion.

If this reaches the highest Court in the U.S., is approved and allows St. Isidore to receive state funds, it would be a great misconstruction of the Constitution and only lead to a further blurring of the line between church and state that has existed since the nation's conception.

Years from now, I believe we will see several discriminatory public educational institutions across the country, and only time will tell how the American public will respond to their tax dollars being used to serve that purpose.

Nohman Sohail is a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in economics and political science. Sohail's column, "Nohman's Nuances," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

YOUR VOICE | The Daily Targum welcomes submissions from all readers. Due to space limitations in our print newspaper, letters to the editor must not exceed 900 words. Guest columns and commentaries must be between 700 and 900 words. All authors must include their name, phone number, class year and college affiliation or department to be considered for publication. Please submit via email to by 4 p.m. to be considered for the following day’s publication. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

Related Articles

Join our newsletterSubscribe