Yoga is now taught as part of the P.E. program in public schools across the country, and at all levels from kindergarten to high school senior. There’s a good reason for that: yoga is an excellent way to ease stress in the busy lives of our students today, it’s open to kids of all athletic abilities, and it doesn’t require any special equipment.
That didn’t stop a family in a San Diego suburb from requesting that their local school district stop including yoga in physical education, arguing that it violated the First Amendment and separation of church and state.
Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their two children, who sued the Encinitas school district earlier this year, have lost their case.
On July 1, a judge ruled that a public school district can teach yoga, taking the side of school administrators who argued the practice is a secular way to promote strength, flexibility and balance, and that it does not amount to teaching children religion.
He agreed that yoga is a religious practice, but not the way that it is taught by the Encinitas Union School District at its nine campuses:
“Yoga as it has developed in the last 20 years is rooted in American culture, not Indian culture,” San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer said. “It is a distinctly American cultural phenomenon. A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas school district yoga advances or promotes religion.”
Hooray for some sanity in this case!
In illustrating his point, Meyer explained that the school district has stripped classes of all cultural references, including the Sanskrit language. The lotus position has even been renamed the “crisscross applesauce” pose!
Superintendent Timothy Baird hailed the ruling, calling yoga “21st century P.E.” that yielded “amazing” health benefits. His district is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its schools.
The lessons, funded by a $533,720, three-year grant from the non-profit K.P. Jois Foundation, are offered to the district’s 5,600 students, in addition to regular P.E.
Bizarrely, the lawyer for the Sedlocks, Dean Broyles, said the judge’s ruling was part of a broader bias against Christianity. According to Broyles: yoga “is religious and has religious aspects. There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in these cases, and a pro-Eastern or strange religion bias.”
A “strange religion” bias? Is he referring to the eight-limbed tree posters the Sedlocks said were derived from Hindu beliefs, the Namaste greeting and several of the yoga poses that they said represent the worship of Hindu deities?
First of all, I wonder if Mr. Broyles has ever actually taken a yoga class? Does he know what goes on there? Does he imagine the yoga instructor gets everyone into some weird position, makes them hold still and then indoctrinates them in “strange religion”?
Much more troubling in this mindset is the notion that Christianity is the only acceptable religion for the U.S., in spite of the facts that a plethora of other religions exist and that 16 percent of our citizens hold no religion at all. The wonderful multicultural and multi-ethnic mix is one of the main reasons many of us came to the U.S. as immigrants. Indeed, the San Diego region itself is a multi-ethnic area, embracing many religions.
On a practical level, if the Sheldons really believe that yoga is being used to subtly brainwash their kids, they can choose to opt out of the twice-weekly, 30-minute classes, as about 30 families have done.
Apparently Mr. Broyles is not convinced that this is the answer and is planning an appeal.
Meanwhile, the lucky Encinitas students can continue to enjoy their weekly 60 minutes of relaxation.
What do you think? Could it be that the Encinitas school district is trying to brainwash its students?
Photo Credit: istock