Yoga-in-schools opponents won’t divulge basis for coming appeal

Everyone seems to expect that the folks who sued the Encinitas Union School District over its yoga program are going to appeal the judge’s ruling this week that determined yoga isn’t religious.

The opponents of the yoga program essentially have said that’s their plan, but as they won’t divulge the basis for that appeal. However, “several are valid,” the head of the National Center for Law & Policy, Dean Broyles, said, according to this Christian Science Monitor story, which for my money might be the best piece (aside from our own) about the ruling.

What’s particularly noteworthy is its detailing of the Supreme Court ruling that is the precedent against which Broyles effectively was arguing. That case, from the halcyon Warren Court Days, is McGowan v. Maryland. Here’s the CSM:

Several constitutional scholars say any appeal faces an uphill battle because the basis of the ruling is a frequently tested US Supreme Court decision, McGowan v. Maryland (1961), that is clear: Laws with religious origins are not unconstitutional if they have a secular purpose.

“Just because the Ten Commandments condemn murder and theft doesn’t make laws prohibiting murder a violation of church and state,” says Jesse Choper, a constitutional scholar at the Boalt School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. “McGowan v. Maryland saved a lot of other religious-looking laws.”

In that case, he says, the court rejected a challenge to laws requiring that most large-scale commercial enterprises remain closed on Sundays. The court found that Sunday closing laws were originally efforts to promote church attendance. “But, despite the strongly religious origin of these laws, nonreligious arguments for Sunday closing began to be heard more distinctly,” said the court.

Moreover, the San Diego case is not the first time a court has rejected a legal claim that teaching yoga in the public schools violates the First Amendment prohibition of the establishment of religion by government, says UC Berkeley law professor Stephen Sugarman. In Altmans v. Bedford Central School District (1996), plaintiffs challenged the teaching of meditation, yoga, and guided-imagery in the public school classrooms, alleging that such classes exposed their impressionable children to “New Age spirituality.” That case found that plaintiffs failed to show that the activities were used in ways that were religious.

What is termed yoga can be delivered as a form of healthful exercise and breathing, in effect, as part of the physical education program, he says. “That is what the judge decided here.”

Now, we’ve been having a fun discussion about whether yoga is religious. But I’d point to the phrasing from the CSM: “the activities were used in ways that were religious.” That’s a subtle difference, right? Whether yoga is religious isn’t the point, if you’re pulling certain features from it — the poses, the breathing, the mind-focus. (I know we still can argue whether you can disentangle the religion from those features.) It might be akin to recreating an explicitly religious act — part of a Mass, maybe, or how about Moses parting the Red Sea or Hanuman jumping to Lanka — within a different context: an acting class or even an “English” class. Any of those might freak some people out, but it sounds like they’d be OK based on this case.

Anyway, we’ll wait and see what the appeal’s basis is.

Oh, and for our readers in the U.S.: Happy Fourth.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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