Yoga in school not same as teaching religion, California judge rules

SAN DIEGO Mon Jul 1, 2013 9:16pm EDT

Related Topics

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A California judge refused on Monday to block the teaching of yoga as part of a public school's physical fitness program, rejecting parents' claims that the classes were an unconstitutional promotion of Eastern religions.

Judge John Meyer acknowledged that yoga "at its roots is religious" but added that the modern practice of yoga, despite its origins in Hindu philosophy, is deeply engrained in secular U.S. society and "is a distinctly American cultural phenomenon."

He also said the Encinitas Unified School District had developed its own version of yoga that was not religious but distinct and separate from Ashtanga yoga.

"A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas School District yoga does advance or promote religion," he said.

While school district officials were pleased by the ruling, the lawyer for the parents said they probably will appeal.

"If yoga is a religion and has religious aspects, it doesn't belong in the public schools," said Dean Broyles, who represents Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, whose two children opted out of yoga for physical education. "There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in these cases and a pro-Eastern or strange religion bias."

Encinitas, about 20 miles north of San Diego, began a pilot yoga program in one of its nine elementary schools in 2011. About 40 to 45 students - out of the 5,500 in the district - were taken out of the classes by their parents.

The Sedlocks filed suit against the district in February, arguing that yoga is inherently religious and asking teaching of the classes be banned. The parents claimed that children who opted out of the program faced bullying and teasing.

Their suit expressed concern that the school district had implemented the program with a $500,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, which promotes Ashtanga yoga.

The case was the latest twist in a broader national clash over the separation of religion from public education that has seen spirited debate on issues ranging from the permissibility of student-led prayer to whether science instructors can teach alternatives to evolution.

The plaintiffs objected to eight-limbed tree posters with Sanskrit characters that they said were derived from Hindu beliefs, as well as to the use of the Namaste greeting in class and several yoga poses said to represent worship of Hindu deities.

But by the start of the 2012-2013 school year, the Sanskrit and Namaste had been eliminated from the program, and poses had been renamed with "kid-friendly" descriptions, poses now called gorilla, turtle, peacock, big toe, telephone and other terms, according to testimony. The lotus pose, for example, is called criss cross apple sauce in Encinitas schools.

However, the plaintiffs' expert, professor of religious studies Candy Gunther Brown, testified that yoga practice indoctrinates Hindu religious practices whether the individual knows it or not.

Brown cited research suggesting yoga practice changes the user's brain and thoughts, a sort of gateway drug to the occult, Meyer said.

The judge did not agree with her, saying, "Dr. Brown has an obvious bias and can almost be called being on a mission against yoga."

School district Superintendent Timothy Baird applauded the ruling, and pointed out that the district had been represented for free by lawyers provided by parents whose kids take yoga in the district.

"We always want our parents to be happy and we try to work with our parents on everything we do," Baird said.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Bill Trott)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (4)
BobTheJanitor wrote:
I took various types of folk dancing classes while I was in public school and I hated them, (like most of PE,) because I was a nerdy kid with glasses who wasn’t very good at that sort of thing… Yet, it never occurred to me that I should challenge them on the grounds that they have very faint religious undertones, because, uhmm, quite frankly that idea is absurd. Yoga strikes me the same way, the religion in Yoga is, just not there.

Jul 02, 2013 2:01am EDT  --  Report as abuse
ralphos wrote:
Religitards are really really ugly people.

Jul 02, 2013 4:11am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Thompson_TX wrote:
One day, in the not to distant future, “Evangelical Christianity” will be a psychiatric diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V). Whether or not there will ever be a successful treatment for it remains to be seen. It would have to be a secular recovery system, similar to drug and alcohol addiction.

Jul 02, 2013 5:30am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.