Parents who were challenging a lower court ruling that allowed yoga to be taught in their children’s public school lost their appeal earlier this month when a California court ruled that the school district of Encinitas could incorporate yoga into physical education classes.
The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that teaching yoga in schools does not violate the so-called rule of “separation of Church and State” because the classes being taught to children are devoid of religion.
The story began several years ago when the Sedlock family, whose children attend school in the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD), complained to the school about forcing their children to attend Ashtanga yoga classes during school time. Because yoga is based in the Hindu religion, the parents sued to have it stopped, but lost when a judge ruled that even though it’s religious, it can still be taught.
The basis of the state’s argument is that the Hindu meditation and worship has no more spiritual influence on the children than football.
“This school district has essentially adopted a state religion and is forcing it upon our young children by requiring this class to be taken,” said Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, one of the groups that are filing briefs with the state’s Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District.
“These actions violate the fundamental right of parents to raise their children according to their beliefs, and they disregard the Constitution that this nation was founded upon.”
As a result of the action, the school district attempted to strip the program of all Sanskrit and any references to the divine, including a description that said yoga brings out “the inner spirit of the child.” They also changed the names of the poses, many of which are designed as positions of worship to Hindu gods, such as renaming the lotus pose as “crisscross applesauce.”
A lower court first ruled that the practice was sufficiently stripped of religious context, then reversed itself in a revised Statement of Decision which acknowledged that EUSD’s yoga poses are “identical” to those taught by the Jois Foundation [now known as Sonima], the organization that paid the district $2 million to “beta test” the program on EUSD students.
As a result of this reversal, the Jois Foundation scrambled to change its name and scrub its website of all religious references, even though Ashtanga is a derivative of the very religious classical Indian yoga.
According to the National Center for Law and Policy (NCLP), who is representing the Sedlocks, Jois/Sonima explicit states that its goal is to have a global “outreach” “mission” of impacting as many people as possible, especially “youths,” with Ashtanga “spiritual” philosophy. In addition, Jois/Sonima representatives have affirmed Jois’ explicit teaching that the mere “physical practice” of yoga asanas (poses) leads practitioners to “become one with god . . . whether they want to or not.”
The NCLP also reports that Jois/Sonima’s board of directors reads like a “veritable who’s who of the modern New Age movement” touting billionaire Paul Tudor-Jones, Deepak Chopra, and Stedman Graham (Oprah Winfrey’s boyfriend). Two EUSD employees, superintendent Timothy Baird and Scott Himelstein, also serve on Jois/Sonima’s board.
It comes as no surprise that the lower court judge stated grave concerns about the mission of the Jois Foundation, but shocked everyone by allowing the classes to continue.
The latest ruling from the California Fourth District Court of Appeal allowed his decision to stand, stating that “It is clear that while yoga may be practiced for religious reasons, it cannot be said to be inherently religious or overtly sectarian. In the absence of evidence that the District’s program advances religion, no religious coercion is present.”
Lawyers for the Encinitas Union School District say their yoga program will continue while the Sedlocks are exploring their legal options.