Stark v. Independent School District 640

Becket Role:


Decision Date:
May 15, 1998
Deciding Court:
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Case Summary

Because Plymouth Brethren object to the use of modern technology in school curriculum, school district officials have traditionally allowed them to leave the classroom whenever the teacher would use a TV, VCR, CD players, and the like. As is standard procedure, when parents—for whatever reason, religious or not—object to a particular feature of the district curriculum, officials will seek to modify the curriculum to meet their objection or else will exempt their children from the curriculum altogether.

In 1992, some Brethren parents approached district officials and asked whether they would be willing to reinstitute a K-6 school in a vacant school building. The owner offered to lease the old school building that he now owned on terms that would make the school financially feasible to the district.

The district said that it would be so willing, so long as the school was open to all children and not just Plymouth Brethren. Several Minnesota citizens utilizing taxpayer standing filed suit against the district, claiming that the creation and operation of the new school would violate the Establishment Clause and the Minnesota Constitution.

The district court agreed. However, on appeal, the Eighth Circuit reversed the lower court and reasoned: “No religious instruction takes place at the Vesta school, and there is no expenditure of public funds in support of the teaching or promulgating of religious beliefs. Accordingly, we conclude that no violation of the state constitution has occurred.”

Thanks to the Becket Fund’s work, the Plymouth Brethren’s children are free to learn and thrive in an environment conducive to their exercise of religion. This case is further ammunition in the battle to give individual schools and parents the power to craft innovative solutions for educating their young people.

Case Information

Becket Role:
Case Start Date:
December 21, 1994
Deciding Court:
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Original Court:
U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota
Supreme Court Status:
Cert Denied
Practice Area(s):