SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Yoga in a public school’s fitness program does not amount to teaching children religion because despite its roots in Hindu philosophy it is part of American culture, a California judge ruled on Monday.
The ruling denied a request by a family in a San Diego suburb to ban the local school district from including yoga in physical education, arguing that it violated the First Amendment and separation of church and state.
“Yoga as it has developed in the last 20 years is rooted in American culture, not Indian culture,” San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer said. “It is a distinctly American cultural phenomenon. A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas school district yoga advances or promotes religion.”
Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their two children sued the Encinitas school district earlier this year. Their lawyer, Dean Broyles, said the judge’s ruling was part of a broader bias against Christianity.
Yoga “is religious and has religious aspects,” Broyles said. “There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in these cases, and a pro-Eastern or strange religion bias.”
The national debate on religion in public schools includes student-led prayer and whether science instructors can teach alternatives to evolution.
The lawsuit, which had not sought monetary damages, objected to eight-limbed tree posters the Sedlocks said were derived from Hindu beliefs, the Namaste greeting and several of the yoga poses that they said represent the worship of Hindu deities.
Encinitas schools superintendent Timothy Baird said he expected the ruling to be appealed.
Written by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou, Toni Reinhold