Parents who brought a lawsuit against a school in Encinitas, California that argued teaching students yoga violated rights to freedom from religious indoctrination are not taking the judge’s ruling against them as a discouragement, Daniel B. Wood of The Christian Science Monitor is reporting. The couple who sued to put an end to 30-minute weekly yoga sessions offered in Encinitas Union School District schools have already vowed to appeal.
In his ruling, Judge John Mayor said that the Ashtanga yoga classes offered by the school did not constitute a promotion of a particular religious belief. The steps taken by the school to draw a distinction between practice of yoga and the Hindu religion it stems from were sufficient to make the activity secular enough for a public school.
Among the steps taking by the district is removing Sanskrit chants and renaming a number of poses.
But the attorney for the Encinitas parents says that teaching yoga in a public school violates constitutional protections, period.
“Ashtanga yoga is the most religious form of yoga practiced in the US, and that is not my opinion but that of religious scholars,” says Dean Broyles, president and attorney for the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy, who represented the couple, Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock.
“If it is religious – and even the judge himself admitted that from the bench – why is there not a constitutional problem with that?” he added. “It’s an interesting legal proposition to me that he thinks he is theologically qualified to determine whether or not enough religion has been stripped out of Ashtanga yoga to make it secular.”
Although Mayor admitted that he had some concerns about the group that provided the funding for the yoga program – the K.P. Jois Foundation – since the classes were overseen by the school and not the group, it meant that the classes didn’t really qualify as government promotion of particular religious belief.
EUSD welcome the decision and responded in a statement that they will continue to offer yoga as part of the district’s comprehensive health and wellness program. The district employs full-time yoga teachers on all its campuses.
But Mr. Broyles says there is a double standard operating when priests and rabbis can be handed speaker guidelines on how to pray in a sectarian matter for public school graduations – as dictated by the US Supreme Court decision Lee v. Weisman (1992) – and yet let an overtly Hindu practice be taught in schools. He says he won’t divulge on what grounds his appeal will be based, but that “several are valid.”