Rejected by courts that say yoga is religious but it can be taught in American schools anyway, parents in a California school district have launched a campaign to “protect kids with truth.”
Parents in the Encinitas, California, school district announced the creation of Truth About Yoga, which provides information about the mystical teaching and chronicles their legal effort to remove the practice from schools.
The parents sued when a private foundation donated millions of dollars to be allowed to teach Ashtanga yoga to children in the district. The district superintendent, Timothy Baird, is a member of the yoga foundation’s advisory board.
A judge and the California Court of Appeals in San Diego concluded that while Ashtanga yoga is religious, it still can be taught in a public school because the curriculum in the mandatory classes has sanitized its religious aspects.
The parents announced this week they will not pursue the case further.
But Dean Broyles of the National Center for Law & Policy, which represented the parents, said “this is not the end of our broader principles campaign to tell the truth about yoga.”
“We will continue to look for opportunities to educate parents and fully expect to be engaged in future efforts to stop the deceptive religious indoctrination of our children by the state,” he said.
The team of attorneys convinced both the trial court and the appellate justices that yoga, including Ashtanga yoga, is religious.
“However, the Encinitas Union School District prevailed in their argument that they had changed or removed enough of the religious elements from their yoga program, so that the physical education classes were purportedly not unlawfully promoting religion in the public schools,” the National Center for Law & Policy said in a report.
Broyles explained it was difficult not to pursue the original legal complaint, Sedlock v. Baird.
“This was a very tough call to make under the circumstances,” he said. “We knew from the beginning this case would be an uphill battle, because yoga is so popular and so many people believe the pervasive myth that yoga’s ‘physical’ practice can be neatly separated from the metaphysical or religious elements of Hinduism. On the positive side, the lawsuit forced EUSD to significantly change its written yoga curriculum and some of its classroom teaching.
“However, as even the appellate court acknowledged, the children are still being led through the Surya Namaskara, which is a Hindu liturgy worshiping the sun god Surya.”
Broyles said the ruling was “an aberration from well-established legal precedents.”
“No other court in the past 50 years has allowed schools to lead children in ritual religious practices, like devotional Bible reading, prayer or meditation,” he said.
“EUSD’s devotional sun worship, including bowing, praying hands and lifting one’s hands in worship to the sun is objectively religious and should not be treated any more favorably than Bible reading or prayer, even if EUSD is not teaching the children the supporting theology behind the Hindu rituals,” said Broyles
He said the district’s position is “deceptive.”
“The social science research clearly demonstrates that yoga’s purported mere ‘stretching’ and ‘breathing’ components, called asanas and pranayama in Sanskrit, are, by themselves, spiritually transformative,” Broyles said.
He pointed out that among the results of the case is that parents are opting their children out of the yoga classes, and “many good families” are leaving the district.
A report in the San Diego Reader shortly after the appeals court endorsed teaching yoga explained that the Encinitas-based Sonima Foundation, a yoga-promoting organization with links to the activity’s religious history, gave the district $3.3 million “so that students can practice yoga.”
The district hired a teacher who had studied yoga in a private institute in India, and the legal complaint was filed over the teaching of religion.
The practice ultimately was approved by the appeals court even though the judges noted Ashtanga promotes “union with the universal or the divine.”
The parents’ website cuts to the chase, asking if yoga is “really in the best interest of the kids” or if the issue is the money the district received.
It discusses the physical injuries reported from yoga, the program’s replacement of physical education in the Encinitas district schools, the religious beginnings of Ashtanga yoga and other issues.
WND reported Austria removed a similar teaching from its classes because it conflicts with students’ Catholic beliefs, and the Indian Supreme Court is examining whether the Ashtanga yoga philosophy “would discriminate against the Muslim and Christian minorities.”
Encinitis district officials have declined several times to respond to WND requests for comment.
At the district court, the judge ruled yoga is “religious” and that the school’s practices are “identical” to the faith-based practices in yoga. For example, students take various “praying hands” positions and bow down “to the Hindu solar god Surya.” But the lower court ruled the district could run the class anyway.
The appeals court agreed.
WND reported the Sonima Foundation, previously known as the Jois Foundation, included among its founders Sonia Tudor Jones, an ardent devotee of yoga who wanted to “spread the gospel of Ashtanga through the country and even internationally.”
The parents report the foundation already is targeting other school districts with grant money.