Documentation of lawsuit by small anti-Waldorf group against two public school districts in California.
Since 1998, a small vocal anti-Waldorf group called PLANS (People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools), situated in San Francisco, has pursued a federal lawsuit in Sacramento, California, against two local school districts for operating publicly funded Waldorf-methods schools, one a charter school and one a magnet school.

In the spring of 1997, PLANS initiated a publicity campaign against Oak Ridge Elementary School, a public Waldorf-methods magnet school in Sacramento, distributing leaflets which falsely suggested to parents, including many recent Hmong and Mien immigrants, who did not speak English well, that the Waldorf program was part of a "cult" involved in teaching witchcraft to the children. In response, a number of parents picketed and boycotted the school. 

The local Sacramento Bee newspaper found no evidence at the school to support PLANS' claims, but a television news report of the picketing which repeated the allegations prompted interest in filing a lawsuit against the school and its school district.

Funding to support the litigation, based on allegations of Wicca based religious practices at the Waldorf method school, was sought through and supported by a right wing law organization, Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), that otherwise fights to abolish the United States' constitutional separation of church and state and supports distribution of Christian literature in public buildings.

The Oak Ridge School was subsequently reorganized and renamed the John Morse Waldorf Methods School. The lawsuit was filed in February, 1998.

Two school districts are named as defendants in the litigation: Sacramento City Unified School District, that supports one school as a Waldorf-methods magnet school, and the Twin Ridges Elementary School District, that today supports four schools as Waldorf-methods charter schools.

The schools targeted are John Morse Waldorf Methods School in the city of Sacramento and the Yuba River Charter School in the Sierra foothills.

According to the litigation, the operation of the two Waldorf-methods schools has as a "primary purpose and primary effect" "to advance religion, including the religious doctrines of anthroposophy" in a way that, according to the group, violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The two school districts disputed the litigation, and in May 1999 the Sacramento School District moved for a summary judgment in the case.

While this was denied, the court in 1999 and 2001 in two steps has ruled against the litigation.

In September 1999 it ruled against the central allegation in the litigation, finding that the two school districts and the two schools involved, using Waldorf methods, have a secular, non religious purpose for their operation.

It however also let the case proceed, to investigate whether the two public Waldorf programs targeted in the litigation might have the unintended consequence of directly and substantially endorsing 'religion', and fostering an excessive entanglement between church and state, and the case was expected to be heard in February, 2000.

This however did not take place, and, after delays, the case -- again -- was expected to be heard in February, this time 2001, but it was postponed to June. A decision in March, 2001, by an appellate court in New York led to a review of the case. The judge ruled that PLANS did not have taxpayer standing and dismissed the case on May 23, 2001.

Following this ruling, PLANS filed an appeal with the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which in February, 2003, reversed the decision on taxpayer standing by the lower court and returned the case.

In May, 2004, PLANS presented a motion for summary judgment, or, in the alternative, summary adjudication, requesting that the court rule (1) that anthroposophy is a religion for the purposes of the establishment clause of the First Amendment and (2) that the Waldorf methods used by the public schools promote anthroposophy, based on the pretrial record, as a matter of law.

The school districts presented counter arguments including a declaration by Douglas Sloan, an expert witness on anthroposophy and religion. The Anthroposophical Society in America filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the defendants.

On November 15, 2004, the court denied the motion by PLANS for summary judgment.

The ruling concludes that triable issues of material fact exist as to whether anthroposophy is a religion, and finds that the school districts have set forth considerable evidence that anthroposophy is a philosophy, not a religion.

It also concludes that triable issues of material fact exist whether the Waldorf methods of education, implemented at the John Morse Waldorf Methods School and the Yuba River Charter School, advances and promotes anthroposophy in the substantial way alleged by PLANS in its litigation.

A pretrial conference was held on February 11, 2005. The Court set the deadline for filing motions to exclude testimony or evidence as March 11, 2005.

In April, 2005, the Court filed an order outlining the trial issues and the evidentiary and procedural guidelines for the trial.

The order denies PLANS eleven witnesses for failure by its attorney to make timely disclosure to Defendants and 101 of PLANS' exhibits as a result of discovery sanctions.

The case will be conducted as a bifurcated trial, first addressing the issue of whether anthroposophy is a religion for purposes of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

If the Court determines that to be the case, it will proceed to issues related to whether the Waldorf inspired methodology, employed by the concerned schools, advances and promotes anthroposophy to such an extent, that it violates the U.S. Constitution.

The trial is scheduled for September 12, 2005. The estimated length of trial is sixteen days.

Documentation regarding or related to the case:

1997

  • On PLANS' behalf, Pacific Justice Institute files an application to the Alliance Defense Fund for a $15,000 grant to fund a lawsuit against the Sacramento City Unified School District, claiming that the Waldorf program includes "requiring children to fold their arms and chant, say a pledge to the sun flag, and other Wicca based religious practices" and rituals, which amount to "open religious proselytizing and coercion of children" in violation of the First Amendment (July 18, 1997). The grant is awarded.


1998

  • PLANS files suit in Federal Court [23K] against the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) and the Twin Ridges Elementary School District (TRESD) (February 10, 1998).


1999

  • The School Districts file motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case without a trial on the issues (May 1999).
  • Memorandum and Order [1.3M] denies the motion for summary judgment but grants in part the School Districts' motion for summary adjudication, namely that the public school programs in both Districts using Waldorf methods have a secular (non-religious) purpose (September 24, 1999).
  • Offer by the School Districts to Resolve the Waldorf Methods Litigation.
  • Refusal by PLANS to Accept the Offer.


2000
 

2001


2002

  • Appeal by PLANS against the Dismissal.


2003


2004

  • Declaration of Scott M. Kendall [42K], Attorney of Record for PLANS, in opposition to motion for sanctions terminating the case (January 14, 2004). Mr. Kendall declares that he has been suffering from a relapse of a significant mental illness causing him to fail to comply with the court's order to respond to discovery requests.
  • Statement by Jonathan Huber [37K], Attorney of Record for PLANS, in Support of PLANS' Motion for Summary Judgment, or, in the Alternative, Summary Adjudication (May 25, 2004).
  • Declaration by Douglas Sloan [62K], Expert on Religion and Anthroposophy, in Support of the School Districts' Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment, or, in the Alternative, Summary Adjudication (July 30, 2004).


2005

  • Defendant's Final Pretrial Conference Statement. [831K] According to the statement: "Defendants attempted in good faith to file a joint statement with Plaintiff. Defendants were not able to secure Plaintiff's cooperation in a timely manner." "Defendants file this separate statement as a last resort." (January 14, 2005)
  • Motions in Limine. Three motions to limit Plaintiff witnesses and exhibits are filed by the Defendants, with oppositions and replies (March 11 to March 25, 2005):
  • Court issues an order [867K] outlining the issues and the evidentiary and procedural guidelines for the trial. Eleven Plaintiff witnesses and 101 exhibits are excluded (April 20, 2005) (Press Summary).
  • Trial in Federal District Court closes after 30 minutes. The Plaintiff PLANS, Inc fails to provide any admissible evidence that anthroposophy is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes. The Court will issue a ruling after September 29. The trial transcript (HTML) and PDF format [20 pages, 52K]. (September 12, 2005)
  • See also press release by the Anthroposophical Society in Amerca. "Despite the fact that PLANS has had more than seven years to find witnesses and produce acceptable evidence, PLANS presented neither. We were not surprised by the outcome. This totally discredits PLANS and their assertions about anthroposophy." (September 15, 2005)
  • Defendants' objections to Plaintiff exhibit and motion for judgment under Rule 52(c) [988K]. Defendants' objections to The Waldorf Teacher's Survival Guide by Eugene Schwartz as evidence that anthroposophy is a religion, and motion for final judgment that Plaintiff failed to prove the threshold issue that anthroposophy is a religion and thus under Rule 52(c) all other issues of this case may be disposed. (September 16, 2005)
  • PLANS objections to proposed findings of fact in opposition to motion for judgment [37K]. PLANS objects to the exclusion witnesses and exhibits: "the defendants ... caused the court to exclude a series of percipient and material witnesses and exhibits" and since PLANS did not put forward any evidence at the trial, "the court has no basis for making a factual finding that Anthroposophy is not a religion." One particular exhibit, number 89, The Waldorf Teacher's Survival Guide by Eugene Schwartz, found at one of the defendant's schools, should shift the burden to the Defendants to explain that Waldorf education is not religious. (September 23, 2005)
  • Order granting Defendants' motion for judgment [22K]. Judge Damrell rules that "Plaintiff failed to carry its evidentiary burden of establishing that anthroposophy is a religion for purposes of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment", that "Plaintiff's only proffered evidence, Exhibit 89, is inadmissible for a variety of reasons" and that "because the issue of whether anthroposophy is a religion is a threshold issue ..., Plaintiff's failure to satisfy its burden of proof on the threshold issue is dispositive of this action." Therefore, "defendantsí motion for judgment under Rule 52(c) is GRANTED" and it is adjudged that "Plaintiff take nothing, that the action be dismissed on the merits and that Defendants recover their costs." (September 28, 2005)
  • Defendant school districts, SCUSD [144K] and TRESD [88K], submit an accounting of their costs totaling $22,550. (October 19, 2005)


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