We have a date for the next phase in the Encinitas yoga trial

Now, on as the Yoga World Turns:

On March 11, 2015, attorneys with the National Center for Law & Policy will again square off in oral arguments against counsel defending Encinitas’ public school Ashtanga yoga program at the California Court of Appeals, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, in downtown San Diego, California. The case is fully briefed and has been assigned to a three-judge panel, including Honorable justices Judith McConnell, Richard Huffman, and Cynthia Aaron, who will hear oral arguments next month and decide the appeal in the near future.

That’s from a press release from Friday from the NCLP, the law firm behind the ongoing lawsuit against the Sonima Foundation’s yoga in schools program. (I think all our background is here.) Here’s more from the release, which doesn’t seem to be online yet:

The lawsuit challenges EUSD’s (Encinitas Union School District) teaching of Ashtanga yoga’s religious practices, such as the Surya Namaskara. The litigation has made major waves in America’s growing yoga community, launching a national conversation about whether yoga is religious and is an appropriate subject for public education. The lawsuit and the petitioners lead counsel Dean Broyles were recently featured in the important documentary Who Owns Yoga. Friend-of-the-court (amicus curiae) briefs were filed by World Faith Foundation, the Church State Council, and the Pacific Justice Institute, supporting Petitioners and Appellants. Amicus briefs were filed in support of Respondent EUSD by the Atlantic Legal Foundation, California School Boards Association’s Education Legal Alliance, and the Yoga Alliance.

It goes on to mention a similar lawsuit is up before India’s Supreme Court. Here’s more:

The Jois Foundation (hereinafter “Jois/Somina”), which has partnered with EUSD to develop an Ashtanga yoga program to replace traditional physical education, was formed in 2011 (K.P. Jois “Guruji” had died in 2009) by a group of individuals including Sonia Tudor Jones, an ardent devotee of Guruji and Ashtanga yoga who desires to “spread the gospel of Ashtanga throughout the country and even internationally” and who is wife of billionaire Paul Tudor-Jones. The plan was to conduct a three-yea “scientific” study (performed by USD and UVA’s Contemplative Sciences Center) of the program. Yet Jois/Sonima announced in early May 2014 that it is moving ahead with its public school national yoga push, despite the fact that the three-year study is not completed and the Trial Court’s ruling is being appealed. Stedman Graham, Oprah’s Winfrey’s boyfriend, joined by Caroline Jones, the daughter of Paul and Sonia Tudor-Jones, is spearheading Sonima’s public relations campaign in 40 school districts nationwide, including a recent expansion into the El Cajon Valley School District. Sonima’s board of directors is a veritable who’s who of the modern New Age movement. Billionaire Paul Tudor-Jones serves as the chairman and is joined by Deepak Chopra, Stedman Graham, and others. EUSD Superintendent Timothy Baird and Scott Himelstein are on Sonima’s Advisory Board. Himelstein is the Director of the Center for Education Policy and Law at the University of San Diego and is also on the San Diego Union Tribune’s education panel.

After the Trial Court’s ruling that yoga “is religious,” the K.P. Jois Foundation scrambled to change its name to the “Sonima Foundation” and created a new website (See http://sonimafoundation.org) that removed many of the overt religious references explicitly included on the former website (See http://joisyoga.com/about/story). The Trial Court acknowledged that, although not structured as a religious foundation per se, Jois/Sonima is “deeply involved in yoga and Ashtanga yoga” and “has a mission to establish and teach Ashtanga yoga.” Specifically, as it relates to this case, Jois/Sonima “has an interest in extending physical fitness and health and welfare programs with Ashtanga yoga as its core in the school as an alternative to traditional physical education.” Jois/Sonima’s explicit stated goal is to have a global “outreach” “mission” of impacting as many people as possible, especially “youths,” with Ashtanga “spiritual” philosophy. Jois/Sonima representatives have affirmed Guruji’s explicit teaching that the mere “physical practice” of the yoga asanas leads practitioners to “become one with God . . . whether they want it or not.”

That pretty well gives you the flavor.

I don’t see any response yet on the site for those supporting the program.

Posted by Steve


Encinitas yoga trial inches on; opponents charge students ‘forced’ to participate

At some point soon, we should be reaching yet another “are we done yet, nope” moment in the years-long battle about the Encinitas school district running a yoga program.

On Friday, the lawyers for the opponents sent out news that the Appellate briefing was complete, meaning a three-judge panel now has all the info it needs to render a decision about whether the yoga program is legal.

It feels a bit like a ho-hum moment, but then today I saw that one of the groups that added their voices to the case — via a friends-of-the-court brief, the Pacific Justice Institute, is saying this:

The Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) is forcing children to participate in yoga classes. The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is fighting back.

The PJI filed a brief this week in support of a case that seeks to bar the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) from pushing students into this unbiblical activity. The class, which is funded by an outside organization, teaches Ashtanga yoga which promotes the Yogic belief system of eight limbs–or eight goals which bring unity with God.


“By all means, Pacific Justice Institute is here to protect the religious rights of individuals and families,” said Brad Dacus, President of PJI. “This school district has essentially adopted a state religion and is forcing it upon our young children by requiring this class to be taken. These actions violate the fundamental right of parents to raise their children according to their beliefs, and they disregard the Constitution that this nation was founded upon.”

Judging by the focus of that, as the National Center for Law & Policy’s release (it is the law firm fighting the program on behalf of two Christian parents), opponents have focused on the Surya Namaskaras as a main point of argument. From the NCLP release:

The trial court in Sedlock v. Baird stunned many in 2013 when, despite finding that yoga, including Ashtanga yoga, is “religious,” and that EUSD’s current yoga poses are “identical” to those taught by Ashtanga yoga, including the Surya Namaskara A/B, down the Hindu Solar god Surya, the court nonetheless ruled that EUSD did not violate the religious freedom provisions of the U.S. or California Constitutions. The decision lacks internal consistency because the court found that (1) yoga is religious, (2) EUSD is teaching yoga that includes religious practices, and yet (3) EUSD’s yoga program does not violate the Establishment clause’s prohibitions restricting the state from promoting religion or religious practices.

“No court in the past 50 years has permitted public school officials at school sponsored events to lead impressionable young students to actively participate in devotional religious exercises or practices like Ashtanga yoga’s Surya Namaskara,” declared NCLP president Dean Broyles. “Public schools may certainly objectively teach about religion because religion is historically and culturally important. And students are free to express their personal religious beliefs and practices at school. But the state itself is not constitutionally permitted to endorse or promote religion or religious practices at school sponsored events, as is now occurring in EUSD P.E. classrooms. Courts are especially sensitive to the coercive pressures involved when the state, because education is compulsory, leads young impressionable children with tender consciences through group liturgical/ritual religious exercises or activities—this prohibition would certainly include bowing to the sun god.”

Just to note: I say we’re heading to another “are we done yet” moment because this feels like it invariably will keep heading up the courts.

Posted by Steve

Supporters of yoga in Encinitas schools ‘surgically dismantle’ anti-yoga side

I missed this a bit, but last month, the supporters of the Encinitas yoga program uploaded their brief in the ongoing lawsuit. “Our arguments surgically dismantle plaintiffs’ theories and we look forward to having our victory affirmed,” they say. (The post is signed by the supporters’ pro bono lawyer, Dave Peck.)

Link to the brief is right here. Frankly, it hard to pick a particular excerpt. Here’s one:

As to Dr. Brown, the Sedlocks’ expert, as the trial court observed, her testimony rfi/as “the Petitioner’s whole case.” (CT
1100.) While the trial court found Dr. Brown’s testimony regarding yoga’s historically religious roots helpful, it also found Dr. Brown’s testimony that yoga exercises are inextricably religious and necessarily inculcate religion to be subjective and not credible. (CT 1099.) Where Dr. Brown saw religious rituals performed in the videos of actual students doing EUSD yoga, the trial court saw children engaged in physical education. (Ibíd.)

“Dr. Brown,” as the trial court determined, “sees religion everywhere in this.” (CT 1101.) The trial court found Dr. Brown’s testimony on this point to be extremely biased and motivated by her desire “to fuIfiII her personal goal of eliminating yoga from any school – any school, period.”

And here’s its conclusion:

Despite their reliance on Sands u. Morongo to show that EUSD must independently satisfy the California Constitution, the Sedlocks’ arguments under the California Constitution offer nothing new and rely on federal case law. As the trial court found, in contrast to Sands u. Morongo, EIJSD yoga is not prayer or ritual and is entirely devoid of any religious elements. It was not developed for any religious purposes; it does not endorse, promote, or aid any religion in any way; nor is it excessively entangled in any religion. EUSD yoga, therefore, satisfies all three prongs of the Lemon test, and there is simply no precedent for finding that a program that satisfies the federal Establishment Clause violates the California Constitution.

There you have it.

Posted by Steve

Encinitas as ‘God’s Hospital’ and the ‘American home’ of Ashtanga

People familiar with Tim Miller probably know his story of coming to Encinitas and the health issues he was dealing with when he arrived.

Turns out, this week is the 38th anniversary of his arrival; he looks back at it on his blog (as I’m 99.9% sure he has done before) and adds a few twists this time around:

I don’t remember who coined the name, “God’s Hospital,” but I think it’s a very apt name for Encinitas. Paramahansa Yogananda came here in the 1930’s when one of his wealthy devotees bought him a choice piece of real estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Self Realization Fellowship meditation gardens—just north of Swami’s Beach—are more than likely the epicenter of the healing vibrations of Encinitas. The Ashtanga Yoga system of Pattabhi Jois was introduced on American soil in Encinitas when Guruji first came to Encinitas in 1975. He liked it so much that he returned a dozen times to teach over the next 30 years. He often referred to Encinitas as his “American Home.”

Tim also notes that the last remaining Jois Yoga Center is in Encinitas (currently under construction) and that John Friend almost added to the high concentration of yoga in the town.

A few things Tim doesn’t mention outright: the surfing, the beach, the cliffs. Those are a few other pieces to the puzzle that, in my mind, make Encinitas the special place it is. I could use another week’s vacation there, with practice in the morning and surfing / hanging on the beach the rest of the day.

Posted by Steve

Changes coming to last Jois Yoga studio in Encinitas

If you are planning to stop in at the Jois Yoga studio in Encinitas, pay attention:

You won’t find classes at its location in Encinitas, on Highway 101.

Until December, Jois is temporarily located at 613 West Lake St., a little farther inland. The reason? Construction for a new juice bar and “treatment rooms.”

In the most recent email announcing this (there have been a few, I just haven’t gotten around to noting it), the shala location is referred to as the “Jois-Sonima building.” Sonima, of course, is the name of the foundation that now is attached to Jois Yoga — for all the reasons you know already. There also is a logo for the Sonima Wellness Center.

My gut reaction also suggests that when this work is done, we might see the final Jois Yoga studio fade away and be replaced by the name Sonima — it’s sure a lot easier to brand and promote around one name, rather than two. Plus, it isn’t as though there are a string of Jois Yoga studios anymore.

On the other hand, there may be a desire to keep a foothold in the Jois Yoga name, to allow for new ones, if that’s the desire.

Either way, based on what the Sonima Foundation is doing — especially with kids — “wellness center” seems a better description: It goes beyond “just” yoga. And there teacher listing has broadened beyond Ashtanga.

I also wonder what the construction is involving (I haven’t been by there in months and months). It is a fairly big space, but I don’t know where treatment rooms would fit. The juice bar could take up some of the retail space up front, certainly. In other words, I’m not sure if this involves any expansion into neighboring storefronts.

Posted by Steve

Yes, there’s still a lawsuit about yoga in Encinitas schools

Lest you think that lawsuit against the Sonima Foundation-funded yoga program in Encinitas schools just disappeared with the first ruling in favor of yoga, think again.

As promised, the opponents last fall filed an appeal. And now the supporters have got some additional legal firepower as they work on their response, which is due in mid-August.

Here’s a link to the latest update from the coalition of students and supporters in Encinitas. And key parts:

We now find ourselves responding to the appeal filed by the yoga opponents. Our brief is due mid-August so there is plenty of work to be done in the coming months.

While we remain confident our victory will be upheld by the appellate court, the battle has only intensified. Dean Broyles, the Sedlocks’ attorney, continues to solicit donations and spread his anti-yoga conspiracy theories at every opportunity. His original appellate brief, at a whopping 63 pages, was so bloated that the court refused to accept it without significant edits.

In addition to your ongoing support, YES! has been fortunate to receive several offers of assistance from legal professionals. After careful evaluation, we have elected to team up with appellate superstar M.C. Sungaila whose track record of success speaks for itself. Coast Law Group and Snell & Wilmer, Ms. Sungaila’s firm, will continue to represent YES! on a pro bono basis.

We didn’t make a huge deal of the appeal from the National Center for Law and Policy, at the time (nor did other media, to the best of our knowledge) because filing an appeal isn’t that big a thing. Having a deadline to respond, as supporters now do, seems more of interest.

We’ll keep our eyes on it, of course.

Posted by Steve

Opponents of yoga in Encinitas schools file appeal

The National Center for Law & Policy, the law firm that brought the lawsuit against the Encinitas Union School District, has followed through with its promise to appeal the ruling in that original case that found the yoga program didn’t violate First Amendment rights to religious freedom  — and it’s done so in some pretty strong terms.

Below is the full press release:

SAN DIEGO, CA —On October 30, 2013, attorneys with the National Center for Law & Policy filed a

notice of appeal in the public school yoga case that has made significant waves in America’s growing

yoga community, has attracted international media attention, and has launched a national conversation

regarding whether yoga is religious and belongs in public schools.  At issue is the very existence of a

foundational American value–religious freedom.  Specifically here, whether the Encinitas Union School

District’s Ashtanga yoga program for kindergarten through sixth grade students endorses or promotes

religion in violation of the California Constitution’s religious “no-preference” provision and the Federal

First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer stunned many yoga supporters when he announced in his

July 1, 2013 ruling that yoga, including Ashtanga yoga, is religious.  Yet Judge Meyer also quite

inexplicably found that the Encinitas School District did not violate the Establishment Clauses of the U.S.

or California Constitutions when the District hired yoga instructors to teach yoga to District students in

District schools during school hours as part of the District’s official curriculum.  Meyer found that EUSD

had somehow stripped enough religious content out of the program so that the hypothetical “reasonable

observer” student would not perceive that religion was being promoted by EUSD.

However, on September 23, 2013, after a hearing on the Sedlock’s formal objections to the July 1 ruling,

Judge Meyer issued a revised Statement of Decision which acknowledged that EUSD’s yoga poses are in

fact “identical” to those taught by Ashtanga yoga and its now deceased Indian guru P.K. Jois.  Evidently,

in spite of Judge Meyer’s stated grave concerns about Jois Foundation’s mission to promote Ashtanga

yoga to public school children and Ashtanga devotee Jen Brown’s transparent conflict of interest as a Jois

Foundation employee and EUSD yoga teacher, these red flags were not enough to cause Judge Meyer to

find “excessive government entanglement with religion” and suspend the religious yoga program.

“Judge Meyer agreed with historical realities as well as the consensus of religious studies scholars when

he found that yoga is pervasively religious,” declared NCLP President Dean Broyles.  “Ritual physical

practices purportedly leading to ‘union with the Divine’ are obviously religious.  The Jois Foundation has

the transparent religious agenda of promoting Ashtanga yoga, which is based in Hindu religious beliefs

and practices.  Jois, now deceptively rebranded as the Sonima Foundation, purchased direct access to a

captive audience of young and impressionable children by paying EUSD now nearly two million dollars

to beta test its religious Ashtanga program on kids and jointly develop a religious yoga curriculum with

the District.  Once it ‘scientifically’ proves its program ‘works,’ the stated goal is to push Ashtanga

nationwide in all public schools.”

“It is not the job of government to pick religious winners and losers.  We must not allow the cultural elites

to decide by fiat which politically correct religions, such as Hinduism or Islam, are acceptable for the state

to promote to our children with our taxpayer resources, and which religions are not acceptable, such as

Christianity.  Our children are not religious guinea pigs and should never be subjected to such misguided

religious experimentation by the State.”

“A reasonable observing student who is informed about the government practice at issue, here yoga,

would clearly understand that EUSD is promoting religion.”   In fact since the advent of EUSD’s yoga

program students have actually made and continue to make religious associations with the practice of

yoga such chanting “om” in yoga class and spontaneously assuming the lotus position off campus while

closing their eyes and meditating. I am quite certain this case would have been decided very differently if

this were a Christian based P.E. program.  This whole debacle is shameful and the EUSD Superintendent

and Board of Trustees should be embarrassed that this egregious breach of public trust has occurred on

their watch with their approval.”

“We are confident that our likelihood of success on appeal is great if the court neutrally applies well-

established First Amendment legal principles to EUSD’s religious yoga program,” stated Broyles.


You didn’t think we were done with this, did you?

Posted by Steve