Encinitas yoga trial ruling: Yoga wins
The yoga program in Encinitas schools can continue, a judge in San Diego County has just ruled. The program does not involve teaching religion, he concluded.
Here is what the supporters have put out:
This morning Judge Meyer issued his ruling denying the plaintiffs’ request that EUSD “suspend its unconstitutional religiously based physical education program.” In finding in favor of YES! and the school district, the judge determined that the EUSD yoga program does not endorse or inhibit any religion. The program is thus in line with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. From both a legal and common sense perspective, the judge got it right.
The decision followed two chunks of testimony over the past couple of months about whether the program, funded by a grant from the Jois Foundation, violated First Amendment restrictions on religion in public schools. Scheduling issues forced the trial to be divided up. The two sides had agreed to let Judge John Meyer — who admitted early on that he practices Bikram Yoga — to make the decision, meaning no jury.
Here’s a link to the first news story we see.
Dean Broyles, the head of the San Diego County-based National Center for Law and Policy, originally filed the lawsuit on behalf of two parents with two children in the Encinitas Unified School District. (At least the mother is a motivational speaker focused on conservative Christian themes.) The lawsuit didn’t ask for monetary damages, just wanted the program suspended because it was too religious. These opponents claimed — and brought in one professor — that the yoga, especially of the Ashtanga variety, is inherently religious.
Supporter of the program, which involves two 30-minute yoga sessions per week, argued that the religion had been removed and what was left was stretching and breathing exercises.
More later as we find other sources to help provide context.
The opponents have sent out a press release, including this quote from Broyles: “We strongly disagree with the judge’s opinion on the facts and the law.”
Perhaps more importantly, it also includes this from Broyles:
“No matter who has won or lost today at this level, one this is clear: this is not the end of the road for this case or the last word regarding the fate of yoga in public education—this is only the beginning.”
Here’s a bit more:
“I recognize that most people in America do not view or identify yoga as a religious practice. However, such opinions are not based on fact, but are based primarily upon a lack of knowledge or ignorance about yoga and its relationship with Hinduism,” stated Dean Broyles. “This case is not about whether yoga has health benefits, whether individuals may personally practice yoga, or whether individuals like or enjoy yoga. This case is simply about whether public schools may entangle themselves with religious organizations like the Jois Foundation and use the state’s coercive powers to promote a particular religious orthodoxy or religious agenda to young and impressionable school children. Religious freedom is not for sale to the highest bidder.”
The Associated Press has more on what the judge said:
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.
The superintendent also told AP that what the district is teaching is “a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it.”
Update No. 3:
Of course yoga’s just exercise, says an LA Times columnist:
I don’t mean to trivialize the seriousness of the principle at stake: The Sedlocks believed their children were receiving religious instruction. If that had truly been the case, they would have been on the right side of the fight.
But yoga, as it’s often practiced in this country, has long since shed its religion in favor of a watered-down Eastern vibe that sometimes has a cartoonish aspect.
To claim that the yoga being taught in Encinitas schools is a form of religious instruction springs from the same impulse that finds “Harry Potter” books primers on witchcraft, or “Heather Has Two Mommies” a pamphlet promoting lesbianism.
We’ll keep updating as significant things come through.
Posted by Steve