Cultural freedom and mutual respect
- some European and American perspectives

EUROPE ...

Part of the development in Europe since the middle of the 1980s consists in an increased meeting and mixture of different cultures. But it also displays more or less serious types of cultural conflicts, the most serious one being what developed as a war and genocide, splitting up now former Yugoslavia into a dominantly orthodox, a more catholic and a mixed Orthodox - Catholic - Muslim part during the 1990s. 

But it also develops in other countries as different forms of nationalism and xenophobia towards what is experienced as 'foreign' and 'threatening' cultures, with Islam and Muslims - as during the Middle Ages - having become the main target.

The developing xenophobic drift has made nationalism gain territory in France with Le Pen, and also has provided it with parliamentary foothold in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and even Denmark, that in elections in November 2001 put a conservative government in place, with the support of an extreme right populist party, the Danish Peoples Party. For some comments on this development, see The Guardian, The Irish Times, The Time, The International Herald Tribune, and Statewatch.

In Germany the xenophobia has one focus both in a developing nationalism and neonazism as well as in a heightened awareness of every form of potential or actual anti-Semitism. An expression of such a hawk eye focussing on and searching for any expression of suspected or real anti-Semitism can be found in what stands out as a small and somewhat extreme organisation; AKDH (Aktion Kinder des Holocaust) in Basle. 

Anti-anthroposophical campaigns by some extreme Left Wing activists in Germany and AKDH probably contributed to two broadcasts in 2000 under the editorship of a TV-program; Report-Mainz, arguing that Waldorf schols should be part of a systematic support for this xenophobia. For some comments on the TV-programs in question, see here.

In France it has one focus in a xenophobia towards immigrants. Another focus develops as a xenophobia towards what is experienced as more or less cultt like activities, motivated by events like sensational mass suicides of groups like the the Order of the Solar Temple some years ago in Switzerland and Canada. Another motivation that has been forwarded is economic exploitation of individuals by spiritual groups.

This has led to special parliamentary commissions in both France and Belgium, in steps setting up lists of spiritual groups, on more or less well founded grounds defined as 'cults' and concentrated on their financing and deciding on legislation restricting their activities. In a first French parliamentary report from 1995 of this developing new inquisition, it came to the conclusion that the anthroposophical movement was "objectively innocuous".

The second report from the French commission 4 years later and a Belgian report include the Anthroposophical movement on their lists of cults, the French list also including Southern Baptists, of which the now former American President Clinton is (or at least used to be) a member.

A 'U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom' describes the situation internationally for 1999 for different types of spiritually oriented groups. Another 'US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices' describes the situation in France for 2000.

A Swedish Government Report from 1998 on the issue, derived from public hearings and interviews with a wide range of persons (found in a summary here and also mentioned in the 1999 U.S. report) criticized the absence of objective methodology in the French and Belgian parliamentary reports and found that the French commissioners had conducted their efforts in "common cause" with biased private "anti sect" groups.

In France the situation led to to the prosecution, and later sentencing in March 2000 of Jacques Guyard, the President of the French parliamentary commission on cults for slandering three anthroposophical institutions, sentencing him to pay $15.700 for the libel in fines and punitive damages. An appeal by Mr. Guyard led to a confirmation in 2001 of the conviction of libel, but - accepting his argued for parliamentary immunity - relieved him of the fines and punitive damages to which the lower court had sentenced him.

In Holland, teaching of racial stereotypes by a teacher at a Waldorf school in 1994 in eastern Holland and following publications in the media about a supposed racial doctrine of Rudolf Steiner and the fear that this doctrine might have an effect on the teaching in Waldorf schools led to the formation of a Commission under the mandate of the Anthroposophical Society to investigate the issue. For more on the background and the result, see here.

In Belgium, a "Socles de Compétences" (basic skills requirements) decree issued at the end of August 1999, in detail prescribing the basic skills to be practised and mastered by all children in the Communauté Française de Belgique (French Community in Belgium), including the Waldorf schools there, was rejected April 18th 2001 by a Cour d'Arbitrage (Arbitration court) on the ground that it did not leave enough latitude for those running schools to implement their own way of teaching.
 

... and USA

In USA, the events of September 11, 2001, has made an ever more pronounced nationalism and paranoia develop against everything "foreign" and "alien", focussing on people from the Middle East, for a time drawing the West into a war on Islami extremism in Afghanistan and now planning for a corresponding war on Iraque, while at the same time supporting corresponding political Israeli extremism in the Middle East against Palestinians.

Half a year before the September 11 events, a court (United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit) during the Spring of 2001 in one case decided in a similar way as the Belgian court in support of a the cultivation of a multi-cultural perspective on the world in education.

The case involved the pedagogical freedom of teachers in Bedford, a school district in New York, to use methods they find pedagogically relevant in studying and teaching about among other things different non-American cultures.

A district court first had ruled in favour of the plaintiffs complaint against a number of elements in the activities at schools in the district, but the appellate court vacated the judgement of the district court insofar as it adjudicated claims challenging activities at two of the schools in the district, remanded it for dismissal of those claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; and reversed the judgement insofar as it declared activities of the School District to violate the First Amendment and granted injunctive relief and attorneys' fees. It also affirmed the judgement insofar as it dismissed other claims asserted by plaintiffs.

Elliot M. Mincberg, vice president and legal director of the People for the American Way Foundation, a civil rights group that has represented the school district, said (The New York Times, March 29, 2001) "One reason this decision is significant is that it is a rejection of yet another attempt by the right-wing folks to use legal challenges to substantially interfere with school district curriculum."

In a similar case in California, PLANS (People for Legal and Non-Sectarian Schools in San Francisco) in 1998 litigated against two school districts in California, The Twin Ridges Elementary School District and The the Sacramento City Unified School District, for allowing Waldorf-inspired teaching methods to be used at charter schools in their districts.

The main direct declared financing of the case (with $15,000) so far has come from the Christian fundamentalist legal organisation Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), arguing that public Waldorf charter schools in U.S. in an illegal way let religious elements flow into the curriculum. It is also personally supported by the attorney representing PLANS in the case; Scott Kendall, at least formerly associated with PJI, who according to PLANS' secretary up to the end of 2000 has given PLANS an interest free loan of $28.500 to cover for the expenses of the case.

In contrast to the support by PJI of PLANS' case against public Waldorf schools, arguing that Waldorf education constitutes an illegal religious indoctrination of pupils, the President of PJI in June 2001 in a Press Release from the Institute rejoiced in a decision by the Supreme Court, making school facilities available to religious groups outside school hours, saying: "This decision will literally open the door for religious group activities to flourish on all school grounds from Kindergarten through the 12th grade ..."

A trial was scheduled for June 25, 2001, but the decision by the Court of Appeals in NY led to a review of the standing of the litigation by PLANS, ruling that recent case law deprives PLANS of the right to sue. The court thereby in two steps since 1998 has turned down the litigation by PLANS

A number of experts who have been watching PLANS' case from a national vantage point say the legal situation is highly unusual. Edwin Darden, the senior staff attorney for the National School Boards Association in U.S. comments on the litigation by PLANS in a recent article in Teacher Magazine: "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". (For another article on it, see here.)

The comment indicates the degree to which the form of cultural hysteria and xenophobia that comes to expression in the case of PLANS stands out as surprising also to the National School Boards Association in U.S.

For comments on the decision by The Twin Ridges Elementary School District, see here.

For two press reports on PLANS' case, see The Union (Nevada City/CA), now only found in its archive (for a local copy, put here with the approval of the publisher, see here) and The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento/CA).

Go to the main page on PLANS Inc.

Last updated 23 April, 2005