PEOPLE FOR LEGAL AND NONSECTARIAN SCHOOLS, INC. (PLANS)
Debra Snell, President
12562 Rough and Ready Highway
Grass Valley, CA 95945
(530) 273-1005 firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Dugan, Secretary
290 Napoleon St. Studio E
San Francisco, CA 94124
(415) 821-9776 email@example.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, JUNE 7, 2012
APPEALS COURT NIXES CHURCH/STATE CHALLENGE TO PUBLIC WALDORF SCHOOLS
HISTORY TO DATE
February 11, 1998, People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools (PLANS) filed suit in federal court (the Eastern District of California, in Sacramento) against two California school districts, alleging that their publicly-funded Waldorf schools were religious programs in disguise. The defendants were the Twin Ridges Elementary School District, sponsoring a Waldorf charter school, and the Sacramento Unified School District, which created a Waldorf magnet school.
Judge Frank C. Damrell proposed, and PLANS agreed, that the trial would be divided into two parts. The first part would determine whether Anthroposophy, the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education, was a religion for Establishment Clause purposes. If and only if that was shown, the second part would determine whether Anthroposophy was impermissibly present in publicly-funded schools.
In a pre-emptive move, Judge Damrell allowed the school districts to appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on whether PLANS had standing to bring the lawsuit. In April of 2000 the court refused to take the appeal, affirming PLANS' standing.
In May, 2001, in reaction to the case Altman v. Bedford Central School District, Judge Damrell dismissed the PLANS lawsuit against the two school districts, based on lack of standing. PLANS appealed the decision, and in February, 2003, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals again confirmed PLANS' right to sue the school districts as taxpayers and reinstated the case.
At the September, 2005 trial, PLANS refused to present its case without key witnesses and evidence that Judge Frank C. Damrell had excluded based on his interpretation of federal court rules. That gave the judge no option but to dismiss the case for the second time.
PLANS contended that Damrell's rulings were incorrect, and appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. After a two-year wait, the appeal was heard November 9, 2007. The court reversed the decision of the district court and remanded the case back to that court. The appeals court also released one of the defendants from the case, the Twin Ridges Elementary School District, because that district no longer had a Waldorf charter school. That left only Sacramento as a defendant.
A second trial, on the issue of whether Anthroposophy was a religion, was held August 30, 2010. PLANS was represented by D. Michael Bush, of Irvine, CA. Judge Damrell again refused to allow almost all of the evidence that PLANS offered, rejecting it as hearsay and irrelevant. The judge refused to allow the books and lectures of Rudolf Steiner, which form the foundation of Waldorf, into evidence. PLANS called one witness, Betty Staley, an initiator of Waldorf education in public schools. Staley was evasive, claiming that Anthroposophists did not celebrate well-known Anthroposophical festivals, and that the newsletter of the Anthroposophical Society, which prints the minutes of its board meetings, did not represent the Society. Judge Damrell dismissed the case a third time, for lack of evidence.
PLANS appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for a fourth time.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard PLANS' appeal May 17, 2012. Judges Richard R. Clifton, Stephen Reinhardt, and N. Randy Smith formed the panel. Kevin T. Snider, Chief Counsel of Pacific Justice Institute, represented PLANS. An audio recording of the hearing is available at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/view_subpage.php?pk_id=0000009204.
Snider posited that the district court erred in three matters. First, that the exclusion of evidence was based on an erroneous interpretation of federal court rules, for example requiring either the original document or the testimony of an expert for admission of publications more than twenty years old and found in a place and condition supporting authenticity. Second, that the district court used four indicia for defining religion, and the Alvarado case used only three. Judge Smith asked whether the Supreme Court had ever said a group that denied it was religious was religious. Snider said no, the closest thing was the Malnak case, where Transcendental Meditation claimed that Hindu rituals as part of a school program were not religious. Third, Judge Damrell had implied that the "establishment" and "free exercise" clauses of the First Amendment had different scopes, and that position disagreed with rulings of the 9th Circuit Court.
"On two occasions Anthroposophists have convinced courts that Anthroposophy is a religion," said Kevin Snider, chief counsel with the Pacific Justice Institute. In 1987 and later in 2004 two Anthroposophical entities sought special immigrant religious worker visas for foreign nationals serving in two of their institutions. Those cases are Soltane v. INS and Lindenberg v. INS. "Anthroposophists have wanted the advantages of the Free Exercise Clause when applying for immigration visas, but not the restrictions in the Establishment Clause when seeking tax dollars to fund their religious activities at public schools," Snider continued.
Judge Smith thought that the bifurcation of the trial was an error. It didn't matter whether Anthroposophy was a religion or not, what mattered was whether there was religious activity in the classroom. As PLANS was not allowed to go to the second phase of the trial, that issue was never addressed.
Michele Cannon represented the Sacramento school district. Cannon pointed out that PLANS had interweaved some documents into their brief that were not in evidence. She said that PLANS had never presented evidence of any illegal activity in the schools, ignoring the fact that that was because the second part of the trial had not taken place.
At the end, Judge Reinhardt said "Maybe we ought to just decide that you all screwed this thing up, and throw out the whole case."
Debra Snell, President of PLANS, noted "It's bizarre. By getting involved with Waldorf, a public school district was put into the position of having to defend the claims of a religious cult."
The 9th Circuit rendered a non-published decision just three weeks later. They upheld Judge Damrell's decision and his rulings on evidence. They said that a more full record might well show that Anthroposophy was a religion, but that sufficient evidence had not been presented. The court opined that the requirement to prove that Anthroposophy was a religion might have been an error, but that PLANS had waived its right to make that argument by accepting the deal.
Dan Dugan, Secretary of PLANS, said "Over thirteen years our case was whittled down to nothing by technical maneuvers. The real issue of whether public funding of Waldorf education violates the Establishment Clause because of impermissible entanglement with a religious cult, the presence of religious rituals, and the leakage of religious doctrines into the classrooms of public schools was never aired in court. We will start all over again."
The most significant aspect of the 9th circuit ruling is that it did not sustain the lower Court's conclusion that Anthroposophy is not a religion. Rather the Court simply held that the record lacked sufficient evidence for it to rule on the issue. As a consequence, the 9th circuit ruling leaves open the opportunity to show the true religious nature of that belief system.
Anthroposophy is the spiritual movement behind the world-wide network of Waldorf schools. PLANS alleges that Anthroposophy is a cult-like religious sect. Common references classify Anthroposophy as religious; for example, Encarta: "a religious philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner from theosophy, holding that spiritual development should be humankind's foremost concern."
PLANS contends that public Waldorf schools are intrinsically and inseparably based on Anthroposophy. Curriculum decisions and teacher training are based on Anthroposophy's child development theory, which defines stages of reincarnation, a religious doctrine. Science teaching in Waldorf schools includes crackpot Anthroposophical doctrines like the belief that the heart doesn't pump blood. The teaching of world history in Waldorf schools is based on a theory of evolution through successively higher races that both Steiner and the Nazis adopted from Theosophy. Irrespective of its wacky content, publicly funded use and reliance on the doctrines of Anthroposophy endorses that religion in violation of the United States and California constitutions.
WHAT IS PLANS?
PLANS was organized in late 1995 by former Waldorf parents and teachers concerned about both private and public Waldorf schools. It became a California non-profit corporation in 1997. PLANS' mission is to provide parents, teachers, and school boards with views of Waldorf education from outside the cult of Rudolf Steiner, to expose the illegality of public funding for Waldorf school programs in the US, and to litigate against schools violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
For more information, please see the PLANS web site, http://www.waldorfcritics.org.
-Dan Dugan, Secretary, PLANS, Inc.