9th Circuit affirms dismissal of Establishment Clause challenge to Waldorf schools

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In a 3-page opinion in PLANS, Inc. v. Sacramento City Unified School District, (9th Cir., June 7, 2012), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal district court’s dismissal of an Establishment Clause challenge to two Northern California school districts that have created “Waldorf” schools. These schools use a holistic teaching method based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, creator of the spiritually-based philosophy known as Anthroposophy. (See prior posting.) The 9th Circuit held that:

PLANS failed to meet its burden of showing that anthroposophy is a religion for purposes of the Establishment Clause. Although we express no view as to whether anthroposophy could be considered a religion on the basis of a fuller or more complete record, the record as it is before us is simply too thin to sustain that conclusion.

The court also held that PLANS had waived any argument that it could prevail on its Establishment Clause claim even without a determination that anthroposophy is a religion. The case has been winding its way through the courts since 1998.