Lawsuit claims grade school yoga exercise classes are inherently religious

Constitutional Law

Suit claims grade school yoga classes are inherently religious

Feb 21, 2013, 06:33 am CST

A suit filed Wednesday in San Diego superior court claims grade school yoga classes are inherently religious and a violation of the California Constitution.

The suit, filed on behalf of a couple with students in the district, claims the classes in Encinitas schools violate state constitutional provisions regarding religious freedom and state physical education requirements, according to a press release (PDF). The parents are represented by the National Center for Law & Policy.
In a declaration filed in support of the suit, a religious studies professor says the Ashtanga yoga program is inherently and pervasively religious. Students who opt out of the program do not receive 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days as mandated by the state, the press release says. 

The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times blog L.A. Now have coverage.
The suit seeks an end to the yoga program rather than money damages. The program is funded with a $533,000 from the nonprofit Jois Foundation. According to a prior press release (PDF) by the National Center for Law & Policy, "the stated goal of the Jois Foundation is to promote the 'gospel' of Ashtanga (Hindu beliefs and practices), a deeply religious form of yoga, worldwide."

L.A. Now spoke to the superintendent of the Encinitas Union School District, Tim Baird, who said he was disappointed a suit had been filed. Baird said the program is intended to teach students about the benefits of exercise and healthy eating.
“We are not teaching religion, we are not instructing anyone in religious dogma," said Baird. "Yoga is very mainstream.".


My best friend , who is currently in law school, forwarded this article to me. 
We had a long debate about this and whether they will win the suit. We ended up disagreeing on the outcome.

Him, being the law student said they had a good case, I being the fitness expert though it was ridiculous.

  Anyone with enough common sense will understand that the intention of the school was to incorporate yoga into their fitness program. Not teach the children about the religion of yoga.

Here is why I THINK they should not win this lawsuit

1. Elements of yoga are found in many sports. Should we then eliminate those sports from school campuses? Or ban athletic coaches from making their athletes perform the poses? such as stretching and touching your toes? Putting your hands over your head which is reminiscent of the sun salutation?

2. Perhaps its an issue of the "name" of the program. What if it wasn't titled as a yoga class but a strength and stretching class that involved yoga poses?

3. What if the same yoga for fitness program was sponsored by a different organization? I can understand how someone can feel uncomfortable or link it to teaching the kids religion since the sponsor of the program is a religious yoga organization.

4. I practise yoga, as a fitness tool, not a religion. Isnt one of the distinctions of the 2, the chants? Is it considered religious if you do not perform the chants or other rituals that make it a religious act?

Why from a legal standpoint they could win the case

1. The program is meant to teach a "specific" type of yoga = Ashtanga yog. Instead of just being a mainstream yoga class

2. The program is sponsored by the Ashtanga Hindu religion organization.

I still think that if the defendents can show that its not a "religious class" about hinduism and DOES NOT involve chanting which could be considered praying, they will win.

If the direction of the course is to teach the importance, relative to fitness and healthy living, of the Ashtanga yoga poses, then its ok.

What do YOU think?


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