A court in California recently ruled that teaching yoga as exercise in schools does not violate the state constitution’s prohibition on government imposing a particular religion. The court’s ruling came after a group of parents challenged the Hindu practice that was being promoted at a school in Encinitas.
“While the practice of yoga may be religious in some contexts, yoga classes as taught in the district are, as the trial court determined, 'devoid of any religious, mystical, or spiritual trappings,'” ruled justices of California's Fourth District Court of Appeal on April 3.
The court’s decision, which ended a two-year legal battle, implies students from kindergarten through sixth grade can continue to attend yoga classes for 30 minutes twice a week.
Parents Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock had alleged in their 2013 lawsuit that Encinitas Union School District was violating a variety of religious freedom provisions under California’s Constitution by offering students the Ashtanga yoga program as part of its physical education curriculum. They claimed yoga was allowing the school to surreptitiously promote Hinduism and Buddhism. The classes, funded by K Pattabhi Jois Foundation and backed by billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II and his spouse, Sonia, were introduced by the school district as part of a three-year pilot yoga program in 2011.
Evidence was acquired to suggest advocates of these yoga classes insisted that the school’s curriculum had been rid of any reference to Hinduism.
“There is no evidence of any religious indoctrination in any of the written curriculum or in the evidence related to the teaching methods employed in actual District yoga classes,” the court rules.
However, the court’s ruling called for sharp criticism from National Center for Law & Policy (NCLP), a civil liberties and religious freedom group based in San Diego.
“No other court in the past 50 years has allowed public school officials to lead children in formal religious rituals like the Hindu liturgy of praying to, bowing to, and worshipping the sun god,” NCLP President Dean Broyles said in a statement. “We are disappointed with the decision and are carefully considering our options.”
Tim Baird, school district superintendent who was held responsible in the lawsuit for the ongoing yoga classes, said he was surprised over the case and resulting publicity.
“Yoga has become ubiquitous in the United States,” Baird said. “The argument that it turns somebody into a Hindu is a stretch.”
Photo Credits: U-T San Diego