Blog Post

Yoga in Schools: More Court Battles Ahead

Dean Broyles Dean Broyles

Lawyers trying to stop a California school district from teaching Ashtanga yoga in schools are vowing to fight on after a judge decided the practice does not promote religion.

California state trial judge John Meyer ruled on Monday that the teaching of Ashtanga yoga in the Encinitas Unified School District does not promote religion. Meyer found  that students would not associate yoga with religion because of the way the program was being taught and because the district was not teaching any religious components during the classes.

The suit was brought by the National Center for Law and Policy after the district received a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, an organization whose whole reason for existence is to spread the “gospel” of Ashtanga yoga by targeting young children in public schools. (Check out this Jois Foundation ad which makes this goal abundantly clear.)

The Center rightly claimed that yoga is inherently religious because it is rooted in Hinduism. The complaint alleged that teaching yoga in the public schools violates California constitutional bans on governmental religious preferences and use of state resources to promote or support religion.

Judge Meyer ruled that the way yoga was being taught in the schools made it similar to other sports taught in school phys ed programs, such as volleyball and soccer, and therefore wasn't promoting a religion.

Of course, what Meyer apparently doesn't understand is that volleyball and soccer don't involve posing the body in positions of worship to Hindu gods - which makes all the difference in the world between yoga and other PE sports. Whether those gods are promoted during the practice is irrelevant. It's still a religious practice, much like making the sign of the cross is inherently Christian even though some people might want to use it as a way to exercise their triceps. Somehow I doubt they'd allow children to exercise their triceps muscles in school by making the sign of the cross!

But don't take my word for it. According to the Yoga in Theory and Practice Group of the America Academy of Religion, contemporary yoga is “pervasively spiritual and religious.” Another expert witness called to the stand during the trial was Religious Studies Professor Candy Gunther Brown (Ph.D. Harvard) who explained that Ashtanga yoga is one of the more religious forms of yoga practiced in the United States.

“I recognize that most people in America do not view or identify yoga as a religious practice. However, such opinions are not based on fact, but are based primarily upon a lack of knowledge or ignorance about yoga and its relationship with Hinduism,” stated Dean Broyles, president of the National Center for Law and Policy.

“This case is not about whether yoga has health benefits, whether individuals may personally practice yoga, or whether individuals like or enjoy yoga. This case is simply about whether public schools may entangle themselves with religious organizations like the Jois Foundation and use the state’s coercive powers to promote a particular religious orthodoxy or religious agenda to young and impressionable school children. Religious freedom is not for sale to the highest bidder.”

This fight is far from over as Broyles plans to continue the fight. "No matter who has won or lost today at this level, one thing is clear: this is not the end of the road for this case or the last word regarding the fate of yoga in public education—this is only the beginning.”