The PLANS Litigation
After seven years to prepare their case,
the trial ended in 30 minutes, September 2005
"Spiritual science is no religion, nor will it ever contradict any religion as such. It is another matter that it can be the tool with which to explain the profoundest wisdom and truths and the most earnest and vital secrets of religions and show how they may be understood."

Rudolf Steiner, describing anthroposophy, from
The Apocalypse of St. John (twelve lectures, 1908)

In 1998, "PLANS Inc." filed suit against Sacramento City Unified School District and Twin Ridges Elementary School District, two public school districts in California that had funded two Waldorf-methods schools, one a charter school and one a magnet school.

Media reports of allegations of witchcraft at one of the schools (spread by "PLANS Inc.") encouraged the Alliance Defense Fund, an evangelical organization, to donate $15,000 to finance the lawsuit.

Although the operation of the two schools was organized to in full comply with the U.S. Constitution's Anti-Estabishment Clause, PLANS contends that:

"a primary purpose and primary effect of said operation [...] is to advance religion, including the religious doctrines of Anthroposophy".
A number of legal experts watching PLANS' case have regarded the legal situation as highly unusual. Edwin Darden, the senior staff attorney for the National School Boards Association in U.S. has commented:
"I don't know if I've seen anything like this: school districts being sued for allowing schools to follow a philosophy that is not overtly religious".
In 1999, 2001 and 2005, the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, three times has ruled against PLANS.

In 1999 the Court found that the two school districts have a secular, non-religious purpose for the operation of the two schools using Waldorf methods. However, it let the case proceed, to find whether public Waldorf-methods programs might have the unintended consequence of directly and substantially "advancing religion" to such an extent that it violates the U.S. Constitution.

In 2001, however, the Court dropped the case based on PLANS' failure to bring sufficient supporting evidence. A legal precedent set earlier in a similar case in New York led the Court to conclude that PLANS lacked a basis to claim taxpayer standing in the case.

After an appeal by PLANS, the 9th Circuit Appellate Court in February 2003 reversed the decision on taxpayer standing by the lower court, allowing the case to proceed towards trial.

While the ruling on PLANS' taxpayer standing was reversed based on the broadness of the allegation in its litigation, in contrast to the case in New York, the judges did not reverse the 2001 lower court's ruling that the two school districts, including the two schools involved using Waldorf methods, have a secular, non-religious purpose for their operation.

The board of PLANS issued a Press Release after the reversed ruling on taxpayer standing in 2003, stating that "During the discovery phase of the litigation", PLANS discovered what it describes as "internal documents" (The Waldorf Teacher's Survival Guide, a book that is advertised by Amazon), used by Sacramento City Unified School District as "training or instruction in Waldorf teaching methods or Waldorf curriculum.". 

According to PLANS, the "internal documents" reveal that the "true nature" of Waldorf education is that it is inspired and supervised by the devil, an allegation promoted by PLANS back in 1997, according to the Sacramento Bee at the time, and again three years later in 2000, when Debra Snell, President of PLANS, defended an allegation that wool dolls made by Waldorf pupils are used by teachers for after-school voodoo.

In May 2004, PLANS filed a motion for summary judgment, or, in the alternative, summary adjudication, requesting that the Court rule that anthroposophy is a religion, based on material presented by PLANS. But the Court did not accept these arguments, and on 15 November 2004 denied the motion, stating that "triable issues of material fact exist as to whether anthroposophy is a religion".

For some comments on this, see here.

In April 2005, the Court issued an order outlining the trial issues and the evidentiary and procedural guidelines for the trial, scheduled for September 12, 2005.

The order denied 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 estimated length of trial was to be sixteen days.

But in September 2005, the Court ruled against PLANS a third time.

Once the trial started, it turned out the Plaintiff did not have one acceptable witness or evidence, and the trial came to an end after only 30 minutes.

For the full transcript of the trial, see here (HTML) or here (pdf).

For the final trial ruling, see here. The Defendant school districts may recover their costs, which total $22,550.

PLANS appealed the ruling on technical grounds, and won the appeal. But a new trial again dismissed the case on it merits in November 2010.

For more extensive documentation of the history of the lawsuit since 1997 and the main documents related to it, see Waldorf Answers.

(For another article on it, see here.)

Parents in Grass Valley, whose children attend the Yuba River Charter School, have commented that Yuba River Charter School does not teach religion and Yuba River Charter School suit is disappointing.

The case was planned to take place as a bifurcated trial and to first address the issue of whether anthroposophy is a religion for purposes of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

If the Court had determined this to be the case, it then would have moved on to the question whether the Waldorf inspired methodology used by the two schools advances and promotes anthroposophy -- now viewed as a religion for Establishment Clause purposes -- to such an extent, that it violates the U.S. Constitution.


The criteria described by the court for deciding whether anthroposophy is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes can be divided into two sets (Court order, p. 3/32). 

One set refers to two criteria that are not specific to religion, as such, but hold for all world views, both religious and non-religious,

  • whether anthroposophy as a world view addresses fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters
  • whether anthroposophy as a world view is comprehensive in nature.
These criteria, which apply to both anthroposophy and natural science as world views from a philosophical perspective, are necessary -- but not sufficient -- to decide whether anthroposophy may be considered to be a religion for Establishment Clause purposes.

This requires the fulfillment of another set of criteria, specific to religions, and the Court must also weigh their applicability to anthroposophy. These criteria are: 

  • do the philosophy and world view indicate "a system of belief and worship of a superhuman controlling power involving a code of ethics and philosophy and requiring obedience thereto." And,
  • can it “be recognized by formal and external signs such as formal services, ceremonial functions, the existence of a clergy, structure and organization, efforts at propagation, observance of holidays and other similar manifestations associated with traditional religions"
One would expect the Anthroposophical Society in America, which is the legal representative of anthroposophy in the U.S., to have been the focus for finding such "formal and external signs" by the Court. For some comments by the Anthroposophical Society on this, see here and the Society's Amicus Curiae Brief to the Court [155K].

The only expert witness to be heard on the issue in the trial was Douglas Sloan, Professor of History and Education Emeritus at Teachers College, the graduate school of education of Columbia University, and adjunct Professor of Religion and Education at the Union Theological Seminary and The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.

In addition to his expertise in history, education and religion, Professor Sloan has been involved with the Anthroposophic Press, Sunbridge College and the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America as director of their boards within the past sixteen years.

In a declaration to the Court in support of the defendants (the two public school districts), Professor Sloan argued that in every fundamental respect anthroposophy is not a religion and the Anthroposophical Society is not a religious organization.

Professor Sloan's declaration indicates that "PLANS Inc.", which began its public anti-Waldorf campaign with allegations that anthroposophy is a "satanic religion" and that Waldorf-methods schools practice and teach their pupils "witchcraft", and funded its suit on the basis of these allegations (only then to withdraw the allegations during depositions for the trial), would have had a hard time proving its case.

For the full declaration by Professor Sloan to the Court, see here.