A few months ago I wrote about a lawsuit being brought agains the Encinitas Unified School District in California. In the suit, the plaintiff said that a twice-weekly yoga program offered in the schools was inherently religious and inappropriate for kids. The program is funded by an outside grant from the Jois Foundation, which has a mission to promote the practice of yoga. In the Encinitas program, kids do two 30-minute yoga sessions per week in addition to regular physical education classes. The yoga program is voluntary and parents can opt their kids out of it.
This week, a judge ruled that, while yoga can be a religious practice, the way it is taught in the schools is not religious in nature According to Yahoo News:
[Judge John D.] Meyer said the school district stripped classes of all cultural references including the Sanskrit language. He noted that the lotus position was renamed the “crisscross applesauce” pose.
The judge said that the opponents of the yoga class were relying on information culled from the Internet and other unreliable sources.
“It’s almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn’t what this court does,” Meyer said.
Lawyers for the parents in the case plan to appeal. They cite expert opinions that the program is religious and say that children who opted out of the program have been teased or bullied for their lack of participation. They also contend this is part of a broader trend. According to the Huffington Post:
Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their two children sued the Encinitas school district earlier this year. Their lawyer, Dean Broyles, said the judge’s ruling was part of a broader bias against Christianity.
Yoga “is religious and has religious aspects,” Broyles said.
“There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in these cases, and a pro-Eastern or strange religion bias.”
The national debate on religion in public schools includes student-led prayer and whether science instructors can teach alternatives to evolution.
As a parent of a child who will be starting public school in the fall, I’m always interested in cases about educational practices. I have a lot of concerns about the lack of opportunity for physical activity in the average public school day, what with recess being cut to only 3o minutes and physical education being reduced to make room for test prep. Incorporating movement that lets kids burn off a little energy and refocus distractible little minds sounds like a good idea to me. On the other hand, introducing religious practice into schools that are required by law to be secular so as not to stumble into the Constitutionally prohibited role of establishing a preferred religion makes me wary.
Whether or not yoga has to be religious is probably a matter of opinion. I think most of the poses in yoga can be done as exercise without invoking anything spiritual and still have the effect of centering the mind. I’ve gotten similar focus from doing ballet barre exercises or vocal warm ups. Yoga has the benefit of being trendier than plies, hence the appeal in schools and the availability of outside funds to establish a program. Yoga also has known benefits to concentration and fitness which makes it a natural fit for schools.
How would you feel about a yoga program in your school?
Photo credit: Photo stock
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