Attorneys on Wednesday said they have filed a notice of appeal of a California judge’s decision that even though yoga is a religious activity, it will be allowed in public schools.
Officials with the National Center for Law and Policy said the double standard cannot be allowed to stand.
“A reasonable observing student who is informed about the government practice at issue here, yoga, would clearly understand that [Encinitis Union School District] is promoting religion,” said NCLP President Dean Broyles.
“In fact since the advent of EUSD’s yoga program students have actually made and continue to make religious associations with the practice of yoga such as chanting ‘om’ in yoga class and spontaneously assuming the lotus position off campus while closing their eyes and meditating. I am quite certain this case would have been decided very differently if this were a Christian based P.E. program. This whole debacle is shameful and the EUSD superintendent and board of trustees should be embarrassed that this egregious breach of public trust has occurred on their watch with their approval.”
The case was brought by parents whose children are in the district’s elementary school system. They alleged that teaching yoga in schools is an improper attempt at religious indoctrination.
San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer heard the case, and announced in his July 1, 2013, decision that yoga, including the Ashtanga yoga taught at Encinitis, is religious. But the judge also said that the district did not violate the Establishment clauses of the U.S. and California constitutions by hiring yoga instructors to teach yoga to students during class hours.
“Meyer found that EUSD had somehow stripped enough religious content out of the program so that the hypothetical ‘ reasonable observer’ student would not perceive that religious was being promoted,” the legal team explained.
Following objections from the plaintiffs in the case, the judge revised his decision, concluding then that the school’s yoga poses are identical to those taught by Ashtanga yoga and guru P.K. Jois.
“Evidently, in spite of Judge Meyer’s stated grave concerns about Jois Foundation’s mission to promote Ashtanga yoga to public school children and Ashtanga devotee Jen Brown’s transparent conflict of interest as a Jois Foundation employee and EUSD yoga teacher, these red flags were not enough to cause Judge Meyer to find ‘excessive government entanglement with religion’ and suspend the religious yoga program,” the law center said.
The school’s yoga teachings are for children in kindergarten through grade six.
“Judge Meyer agreed with historical realities as well as the consensus of religious studies scholars when he found that yoga is pervasively religious,” said Broyles. “Ritual physical practices purportedly leading to ‘union with the divine’ are obviously religious. The Jois Foundation has the transparent religious agenda of promoting Ashtanga yoga, which is based in Hindu religious beliefs and practices. Jois, now deceptively rebranded as the Sonima Foundation, purchased direct access to a captive audience of young and impressionable children by paying EUSD now nearly $2 million to beta test its religious Ashtanga program on kids and jointly develop a religious yoga curriculum with the district. Once it ‘scientifically’ proves its program ‘works,’ the stated goal is to push Ashtanga nationwide in all public schools.”
He continued, “It is not the job of government to pick religious winners and losers. We must not allow the cultural elites to decide by fiat which politically correct religions, such as Hinduism or Islam, are acceptable for the state to promote to our children with our taxpayer resources, and which religions are not acceptable, such as Christianity. Our children are not religious guinea pigs and should never be subjected to such misguided religious experimentation by the state.”
Broyles said his team is confident of success on appeal “if the court neutrally applies well-established First Amendment legal principles to EUSD’s religious yoga program.”