Encinitas trial expert witness pretty much rips judge’s decision

I had a more benign headline on this post, but then as I read further and further into this interview with Candy Brown, the religion professor and expert witness in the Encinitas yoga trial, I had to change it.

She definitely takes Judge John Meyer to task for his decision to allow the Sonima (formerly Jois) Foundation-funded yoga program to continue in Encinitas schools. I think “rips” is pretty fair. (By its very nature, the interview is totally one-sided.)

The interview with the Oxford University Press went up last week. (Obviously, it publishes her scholarly work.) In it, she delves fairly far and fairly wide into the trial. Some key excerpts:

Meyer determined that “yoga,” including “Ashtanga” yoga, “is religious.” Nevertheless, he allowed EUSD’s yoga program to continue, since he did not think children would perceive the program as advancing or inhibiting religion. The judge found the Jois Foundation partnership “troublesome,” but did not rule that it excessively entangled government with religion.

Were you surprised by the decision?

I found the decision inconsistent in its internal logic, as well as with legal precedents and facts in evidence. Courts have found that practices such as prayer and Bible reading cannot be taught in public schools because they are religious. If yoga is religious, it should not be taught in schools. Courts ask whether a reasonable, informed observer would consider practices religious. Children may not have enough information to determine whether less familiar practices are religious.

[snip]

How do you explain the judge’s decision?

Judge Meyer discounted everything that happened in EUSD classrooms between August 2011 and December 2012 that “could be arguably deemed religious.” He also overlooked ongoing practices such as Surya Namaskarashavasanaanjalimudra, chanting Om, meditation, kids’ use of Sanskrit, and EUSD use of the Sanskrit term yoga, which in Ashtanga means yoking with the divine. He refused to admit into evidence a newly discovered document revealing that in March 2013 EUSD-employed “Jois Foundation teachers” took EUSD students on a field trip to demonstrate “teaching Ashtanga yoga to children both in and out of the school system” at an overtly religious Ashtanga conference (opened by a Ganesh Puja).

Meyer got basic facts wrong. He concluded that EUSD removed the appearance of religion by renaming poses, giving the example that “the so-called lotus position was renamed criss-cross applesauce.” The term “criss-cross applesauce” does not appear even once in the spring 2013 yoga curriculum; the term “lotus” appears 194 times. The 2013 EUSD promotional video records a teacher instructing: “go into lotus.” Meyer believed testimony that jnanamudra was replaced by “brain highways,” a claim contradicted by defendant declarations and the video. Indeed, Meyer ignored multiple instances where defense witnesses contradicted themselves, each other, and documents they signed.

(We covered the program’s opponents belief they’d found a “smoking gun” via the Confluence, that “overtly religious Ashtanga conference”, previously.) Now, here are a few other parts that made me go “hmmmm”:

Ashtanga emphasizes postures and breathing on the premise that these practices will “automatically” lead practitioners to experience the other limbs and “become one with God,” in the words of Jois, “whether they want it or not.”

I’m struggling to decide if that is true — “automatically?” I feel like I want to say: I wish! I suppose if one just glosses over what Guruji said, you could come to that conclusion (especially if it suited your purposes) but there’s nothing “automatic” about Ashtanga that I’ve encountered. This is the same yoga that Tim Miller, in the Vanity Fair article about Jois Yoga from a couple years ago, described as the “yoga of no.”

Next:

Although EUSD officials reacted to parent complaints by modifying some practices, EUSD classes still always begin with “Opening Sequence” (Surya Namaskara) and end with “lotuses” and “resting” (aka shavasana or “corpse”—which encourages reflection on one’s death to inspire virtuous living), and teach symbolic gestures such as “praying hands” (anjalimudra) and “wisdom gesture” (jnanamudra), which in Ashtanga yoga symbolize union with the divine and instill religious feelings.

I guess here’s the best argument I’ve seen to dispense with calling the last “pose” savasana. That aside, I don’t once remember being told that I was suppose to be reflecting on my own death. I may, in fact, be doing that if it was a particularly rough asana practice, but I’m not doing so in any directed way.

Next:

The ruling sets a precedent for public schools to offer religious yoga programs. Indeed, just last week, EUSD accepted a new $1.4 million grant from the Jois/Sonima Foundation to expand its yoga program. Scientific research shows that practicing yoga can lead to religious transformations. For example, Kristin is a Catholic who started Ashtanga for the stretching; she now prefers Ashtanga’s “eight limbs” to the “Ten Commandments.” Kids who learn yoga in public schools may also be learning religion.

And that’s how the interview ends. I’m sorry, but to claim that one essentially anonymous person is the example of the dangerous road down which students are going to go is … well, all that is is another example of the bad arguments and poor persuasion that characterized the trial. I remain amazed at how insipid the arguments against the Encinitas program were, and how ineffective they were. I’ve also noted that the pro-side didn’t particularly knock their arguments out of the park. But they didn’t have to do so.

If there’s ever an appeal, that may change.

Posted by Steve

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

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:

WE WON!!

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.

Update 1:

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.”

Update 2:

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

Opponents testify in Encinitas yoga trial; changes to Mysore schedule again

The trial of the Encinitas schools yoga program restarted Monday with testimony from parents, including those who brought the suit and believe that the program is violating the First Amendment.

First-line coverage from San Diego TV:

District officials said before the program started, instructors removed images of yoga Sanskrit and changed the names of poses.

But Monday plaintiffs argued that this wasn’t the case.

“We expressed our concern again after hearing about our 7-year-old daughter at class talking about Sanskrit names for her limbs that she was taught in school,” said Stephen.

He also said he became worried after reading an article that suggested yoga may not be safe for children. His wife, Jennifer, said the yoga program went against the first and second commandment of the Bible.

During cross examination, the plaintiffs revealed that their daughter has never participated in a yoga class at the school, instead she learned Sanskrit in art class, not yoga.

After testimony, the judge said he had a “difficult call to make.”

That sounds like a bit of a hole in the opponents’ argument. We’ll see if there is more clarity from additional coverage. Closing arguments are expected Tuesday. As if you need reminding, the Jois Foundation backed the program and helped develop it.

On a separate front, the first month of Sharath’s teaching in Mysore is already booked. From the Mysore site:

Sharath’s class is now full for OCTOBER 2013. We will not accept any more registration forms for that month. Kindly register from November 6th onward.

There are some other changes to the studies. They aren’t going to force everyone to start on the 6th of every month:

Online registration for his class is now open, but kindly submit this form 2-4 months in advance of your arrival date. Students will not be allowed to practice in the shala if their form is received within 2 months (60 days). Forms received beyond 4 months will also not be accepted.

We will resume rolling admissions, instead of month-long batches. This means that students may start any day of the month. However, students coming to practice with Sharath are expected to stay for a minimum of 1 month and for not longer than 3 months of study per trip. There will be no exceptions to this rule.

Those bolds are theirs, by the way.

Update: A second bit of coverage focuses on a school principal’s reaction to the yoga classes:

An elementary school principal in the Encinitas Union School District testified Monday that she saw no religious overtones in yoga classes taught on her campus.

Carrie Brown of El Camino Creek Elementary School said she saw only “stretching and breathing” when she observed the yoga class, over which a couple has sued the district because of its alleged religious influences.

That’ll be all the updates until Tuesday morning, our time on the West Coast.

Posted by Steve

Here’s what both sides in Encinitas yoga trial have to say about it

We just received a press release from the National Center for Law & Policy, the group that filed the lawsuit to halt the Jois Foundation yoga program in Encinitas schools.

Without comment or further adieu, here it is:

 

THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR LAW & POLICY NEWS RELEASE 

May 28, 2013 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

CONTACT NCLP MEDIA RELATIONS:  (760) 747- 4529 

 

Yoga on Trial, Part II:  Sedlock v. Baird will resume June 24 & 25, 2013.   

 

SAN DIEGO, CA — Attorneys for the National Center For Law & Policy (NCLP) were

in court last week in a trial where the definition of religion and the close ties between

Hinduism and yoga were examined.  The trial will resume June 24 with more witness

testimony.  Closing arguments will occur June 25, and a statement of decision is expected

June 26, 2013.

The lawsuit is the result of the Encinitas Union School District’s (EUSD) decision to

accept $533,720 from the K.P. Jois Foundation in exchange for providing the religiously-

motivated organization access to the district’s young and impressible students in order to

test, prove, and nationally promote the feasibility of Jois’ “health and wellness” Ashtanga 

yoga curriculum.  The foundation’s reason for existence is to spread the “gospel” of

Ashtanga yoga by targeting children in public schools. The lawsuit seeks a writ of mandate

and injunctive relief to order EUSD to comply with the California Constitution’s religious

freedom provisions and a state education statue requiring EUSD to provide a mandatory

minimum number of physical education minutes.  The NCLP proudly represents

petitioners Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their minor children, who are students in the

district.

Religious Studies’ professor Candy Gunther Brown, who is the petitioners’ expert witness,

was on the stand for more than four hours.  Dr. Brown is eminently qualified to opine on

religious matters including yoga and has an A.B. (summa cum laude), A.M. and Ph. D

from Harvard. During her direct examination conducted by attorney Dean Broyles, Dr.

Brown defined religion, discussed Hinduism, and confirmed yoga’s direct connection to

Hindu, Buddhist, and Western Metaphysical religious beliefs and practices.  Professor

Brown specifically evaluated EUSD’s yoga program, which is based largely on Ashtanga

yoga, and expressed a very expert well-informed opinion that EUSD’s yoga program is

pervasively religious.  When the trial transcripts are available, we will post them on our

website so that a more complete and accurate picture can emerge regarding how powerful

and effective Dr. Brown was at trial.  Predictably, District representatives like

Superintendant Timothy Baird, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary,

continued to repeat the tired “it is not religious, trust us” mantra in the courtroom.

EUSD and Intervener (YES) attorneys Jack Sleeth and David Peck attempted in vain to

cross-examine Dr. Brown, only serving to strengthen her credibility and testimony.

Reading from the wrong website, attorney David Peck asked misleading questions

implying that a grant Dr. Brown received was from a Christian organization.  However,

the grant Dr. Brown received was actually from the John Templeton Foundation, which is

not a Christian organization.  Mr. Peck’s error was corrected in the story posted at

http://www.nbcsandiego.com.

Ms. Andrea Silver, EUSD’s purported “yoga” expert, was not qualified as a religious

studies expert as was Dr. Brown.  Therefore, Ms. Silver was limited to only testifying

about her personal experiences and personal beliefs about yoga.  On the stand, she

confirmed that she knew little about either Ashtanga yoga or EUSD’s yoga curriculum.

Under cross examination by Dean Broyles, she admitted that she was not an expert

regarding Ashtanga yoga and her testimony fell apart.  As the actual transcripts will reveal,

the relative quality of the EUSD’s and Petitioners’ experts could not have been more

pronounced.

“As a constitutional attorney with more than 18 years experience, I am very familiar with

nearly every important Establishment Clause opinion and I can say with full confidence

that EUSD’s program represents the clearest case I have observed of the government

advancing, endorsing, or promoting religion. In this case it is Hinduism and yoga, on one

hand, and inhibiting, disapproving, and discriminating against Christianity and other

religions, on the other,” declared NCLP president Dean Broyles.  “Furthermore, I have

never seen a starker example of government “‘excessive entanglement’” with religion as

has occurred in this case.”  EUSD’s yoga program represents a prime example of precisely

why in America we do not allow the government to pick religious winners and losers,

especially when you have a captive audience of very young and impressionable children as

we do in our public schools.”

“David Peck’s unfortunate approach to this case appears to employ misdirection by trying

to put Christianity on trial. I was deeply disappointed to see David engage in intolerant

name calling and attempt to fan the flames of anti-Christian bigotry, by arguing in his

opening statement that the “‘fanatical prism’” of extreme parents is irrelevant.  Concerned

Christian parents have raised legitimate First Amendment concerns about the yoga

program and deserve the same justice and respect in our courts as any other faith group.

“We appreciate the time and attention Judge Meyer is giving us to try this important case.

We will fight this case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.  Religious

freedom is not for sale.  We must not permit our children to be auctioned off by careless

public servants to the highest bidder, especially for Jois’ self-serving purposes of religious

experimentation and religious marketing.   It was wonderful to have the support of the

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) at trial in the form of the moral support and assistance

of ADF Senior counsel Bradley Abramson and ADF trained attorney and NCLP affiliate

attorney Robert Reynolds,” stated Dean Broyles.

The lawsuit does not seek money damages, but rather seeks to immediately suspend

EUSD’s religiously divisive Ashtanga yoga program and restore traditional physical

education to the district.

Please address all media inquiries to The National Center for Law & Policy.  We ask that

you respect the privacy of the Sedlock family, whose children’s names have been withheld

to protect their privacy.

The National Center for Law & Policy is a non-profit 501(c)(3) legal defense organization

dedicated to the protection and promotion of religious freedom, parental rights, and other

civil liberties. http://www.nclplaw.org

For comment, please contact The National Center for Law & Policy at 760-747-4529 or 

dcarter@nclplaw.org.   

I know the formatting is a bit wonky; it’s pulled from a PDF.

I suppose what jumps out is the way that Candy Brown and Andrea Silver’s testimony is portrayed. I believe commenters here have questioned Brown’s expertise on yoga, for instance.

The proponents at Yes! Yoga for Encinitas Students posted the following (I only post it all to balance out the above press release; I normally wouldn’t do so — if you want to learn more, please follow the link to their full site):

Three days of trial have now been completed in the yoga lawsuit Sedlock v. Baird, et. al.  And it’s not over yet.  While the parties had agreed this would be a two day trial, the plaintiffs’ case, as presented by attorney Dean Broyles, has dragged on and on.  Due to pre-planned vacation and trial schedules, the court has ordered a month-long hiatus in the proceedings.  Trial will resume on Monday, June 24 with testimony from the Sedlocks and EUSD assistant superintendent Dr. David Miyashiro.  Closing arguments will then proceed on Tuesday, June 25.  Judge Meyer has indicated that closing arguments will be critical to his decision and he may even render a preliminary decision from the bench that day.  CLG partner Dave Peck, who has been actively litigating the case on behalf of YES!, provides the following report:

DISPATCH FROM THE FRONT LINES:

Dear YES! Families:  First and foremost, thank you so very much for your support of the EUSD yoga program and our efforts to protect it.  Superintendent Baird, who has been at my side at counsel table throughout the trial, shares his gratitude to YES! for joining the fight.  And what a fight it’s been…..

Many folks scoffed at the notion of this lawsuit and predicted it would be quickly tossed out of court.  While such sentiments are understandable, most people seem to have underestimated plaintiffs’ resolve.  Mr. Broyles, his clients and other yoga opponents have devoted significant resources to this case.  For them, it’s a battle of good versus evil.  Right versus wrong.  They view us yoga supporters as naïve at best, blasphemous at worst.  During a break in the proceedings Jennifer Sedlock even referred to me as “the enemy” while passing in the court hallway.

Like many conspiracy-theorists, plaintiffs see a hidden and evil agenda at work in the school district.  They contend the overwhelming majority of us parents are just too blind to see it.  We naively view yoga as just a great exercise program for our kids.  That intended perception, in the words of plaintiffs’ retained religion expert Dr. Candy Brown, is just “camouflage.”  For example, changing the names of the yoga poses to kid-friendly terms is a camouflage tactic according to Dr. Brown.  She thus accused the school district of being complicit in such camouflage tactics.

According to Dr. Brown, the Jois Foundation is using EUSD yoga instructors as “foot soldiers” in furtherance of its Hindu agenda.  These instructors are being used, whether they know it or not, to make yoga look like a benign exercise.  Once kids/families buy-in to the physical and mental  benefits, and are thus “hooked” on the program, they will become vulnerable to religious indoctrination in more advanced yoga classes in their later years.  Dr. Brown even agreed with Judge Meyer when he commented that it sounded like she was describing yoga as a “gateway drug.”

I had the opportunity to vigorously cross-examine Dr. Brown.  She tended to avoid direct questions and gave many long-winded, esoteric responses.  Judge Meyer noted that Dr. Brown, who has a book on religion coming out this summer, seemed to be relishing her moment in the spotlight.  Her testimony was indeed akin to a doctorate level university lecture.

Dr. Brown testified that, in addition to yoga, she believes karate, tae kwon do (an Olympic sport), acupuncture and chiropractic care are each religious practices.  Citing a variety of suspect evidence, Dr. Brown opined that the EUSD yoga program is “pervasively religious” even though concepts of religion, spirituality, devotion, belief, etc. are not discussed in the classes.  In fact, she claimed that by stripping the program of all conspicuous religious content the district was engaging in further “camouflage” of the true Hindu agenda.  Even just posing one’s body in certain positions – without intent, words or conscious thought – constitutes religious practice according to Dr. Brown.  The inference was that these yoga poses have some magical, transformative qualities.  Importantly, there has been no evidence that anyone in the district believes the poses are supernatural and the kids are certainly not being taught such nonsense.

Plaintiffs have also made much ado about the Jois Foundation and its promotion of health and wellness.  Claiming the foundation is a thinly-veiled vehicle for Hinduism, Mr. Broyles and Dr. Brown suggested something sinister is at work in the district partnering with this organization.  As we have pointed out, however, the district has also partnered with the YMCA and Leichtag Foundation, organizations which respectively promote Christian and Jewish values.  While we ALL agree that religion has no place in the public schools, the mere fact that program funding is received from religiously-affiliated organizations has never been held unconstitutional.  In the eyes of the law it’s the programs which matter, not their funding sources.  (And to be clear, there is no evidence that the Jois Foundation seeks to promote some uniquely Hindu values.)

The character development portions of the health and wellness curriculum have also been scrutinized, with plaintiffs questioning why such things are being taught in P.E.  The suggestion, of course, is that such character teachings must have a religious slant.  Jen Brown, the EUSD yoga instructor at Capri (who was an excellent witness for our defense), pulled the rug out from under such arguments.  She explained at length how she occasionally teaches kids about kindness, cleanliness (“We wash our hands before we eat”) and empathy (“How would you feel if something mean was said about you?”).  In response to my questioning, Ms. Brown (Jen Brown, not plaintiffs’ expert Dr. Brown) acknowledged that no parents have ever complained about the content of the occasional character lessons.  Indeed, regardless of our respective religious beliefs, these character lessons are consistent with concepts we ALL want our kids to understand.

Jen Brown is a very experienced Ashtanga yoga practitioner and instructor who has studied extensively in India and elsewhere.  While plaintiffs have advanced repeated claims that Ashtanga yoga is inherently religious, Ms. Brown easily debunked such claims.  She credibly explained that, despite her years of Ashtanga exposure, she has never been taught anything about Hinduism or religion.  She further detailed the numerous ways in which the EUSD yoga program is wholly distinct from Ashtanga or any other form of yoga.  Indeed, all evidence supports that “EUSD Yoga”, as it’s been called during the trial, is its own unique kid-friendly style of yoga.  Even if Ashtanga yoga is perceived by plaintiffs to be inherently religious or spiritual, that’s NOT what our kids are being taught.  Even Dr. Brown, the plaintiff’s expert, conceded that Ashtanga requires strict adherence to a specific sequencing of poses which is substantially different from what’s being taught at EUSD.

Mr. Broyles grilled Jen Brown at length.  He suggested she worships the sun, and teaches students to do so, by performing a “sun salutation” yoga pose in which the arms are stretched upward.  Ms. Brown explained how the pose at issue, part of an “opening sequence” utilized in many forms of yoga, is simply an initial stretch of the back and shoulder muscles designed as a warm up for more challenging poses.  Broyles pressed on, seeking an admission that the yoga poses she teaches are not mere exercises but, in fact, a means by which she seeks to establish a “connection with the divine.”  Ms. Brown repeatedly testified she had no idea what Mr. Broyles was talking about.  In sum, she was impressive, engaging and sincere on the stand.  I suggest we all give Jen our thanks next time we see her.

Ultimately, the constitutional question to be resolved by Judge Meyer is whether, when viewed objectively by a student, the yoga program promotes or inhibits religion.  Notably, the “objective observer test” does not contemplate what a biased religious studies professor might perceive.  Indeed, after listening to Dr. Brown, I am convinced that she could find religious elements in virtually any activity our kids participate.  Noting her implication that religion is everywhere, Judge Meyer mused that perhaps all parents should simply home school their kids if there’s such a great concern about the slippery-slope influences of a public education.  The reality is that kids are not programmed to view stretching or exercise as religious – unless they are somehow pre-programmed to look at it that way.  Objectively, EUSD yoga is as secular as an aerobics class.

While there’s still more evidence to be offered during this trial, I really like our chances.  From both constitutional and common sense perspectives, the evidence is on our side.  Again, your support is greatly appreciated.

All the best,

Dave

Sound like the same trial to you? Sounds like different witnesses, at least. We’ll be back to it in June.

Posted by Steve

Encinitas yoga trial: Can I get a witness?

A commenter had wondered who might be on the witness list for the Encinitas Union School District in the case of the yoga program gone bad. (I think that should be said in the voice of the guy who did the voice overs for the People’s Court. Speaking of which, shouldn’t this case have ended up on one of the TV courts?)

Well, we have a name: Andrea Silver. According to the latest (and I’m assuming last for a while) U-T San Diego piece, she testified on behalf of the defense and spoke about teaching yoga:

Peck asked Silver if she had heard of a “secret agenda” by yoga instructors to spread Hinduism and whether she has ever worshiped the sun, an elephant or a monkey, all names associated with yoga poses. Peck later asked Jennifer Brown if she was part of an agenda to indoctrinate children in Hinduism or Buddhism.

Both women said no in response.

So who is she? Well it isn’t this Andrea Silver, from Colorado. It’s this one (I’m guessing, based on the Winnipeg locale):

Andrea came to yoga after a career in the fashion Industry and raising a family. After 15 years of practice and teaching  she  is now  well established in the Winnipeg yoga community. She certified at Yoga Centre Winnipeg in 1999 and taught there for many years.  She studies regularily with Donald Moyer and Mary Lou Weprin of The Yoga Room (Berkeley CA) and gratefully thanks all of her many teachers – Father Joe Periera, Ramanand Patel, Lynne Minton and Hart Lazer (to name a few!) for helping her on her way.  Andie, guides her students with a light hearted approach in a safe and encouraging environment.  Known for her creative sequencing, attention to alignment & breath she teaches the fundementals of asana, encouraging students of all levels with a firm but gentle touch.  She provides personal attention to small groups at Om Practice, her warm and welcoming home studio.

I can’t find anything online to suggest why she was the chosen witness. Anyone more enlightened than I? (A trick question?)

OK, and one more exchange we need to pass on from the trial coverage:

Responding to questions from Broyles about a poster that was briefly in her classroom and depicted Sanskrit terms related to yoga poses, Jennifer Brown said she did not see any religious references in it.

She responded similarly to several questions from Broyles about religious terms.

“Have you ever attained Samadhi?” he asked, referring to a high spiritual state in Hinduism.

“Since I don’t know what that is, I would say no,” she said.

Also, for those with deeper pockets than ours, here is a link to the online case filing. You just have to enter the following: “00035910-CU-MC-CTL”. Thing is, each one costs like $7.50.

Maybe we can get back to a Friday asana aid next.

Posted by Steve

Encinitas yoga trial: Case on hiatus until June without resolution

So much for any blockbuster decision.

The trial in the lawsuit to stop the Encinitas Union School District from teaching a Jois Foundation-backed yoga course to students concluded Wednesday without concluding. Both sides had been promised it would go just two or three days, and when those three days were up without a resolution, the trial got put on hiatus until at least June, according to reports.

As we posted earlier, teacher Jennifer Brown testified on Wednesday, and she even demonstrated a few poses. (Our post links to video of that.)

Both the U-T San Diego has stories (here and here) as does the Coast News, right here.

Both sides plan to call additional witnesses when the trial resumes (with the district finally getting its chance), so expect another two or three days when things get going again.

The focus on Wednesday was Jennifer Brown (as opposed to the opponent’s main witness, religious studies professor Candy Brown, no relation), who teaches in the program. Keep in mind, she was subpoenaed by the program opponents; she wasn’t there as a witness for the district. (She may come back as one, we’ll see.) Here is what the U-T reports:

While acknowledging that she has read to students part of the book “Myths of the Asanas,” which some have described as a religious text, Brown said it’s more of a collection of stories on the origin of yoga poses. She also said she leaves out the word “God” whenever it appears because she doesn’t think it’s appropriate for a classroom.

The Coast probably has the more thorough coverage today, although I am sure a few folks will roll their eyes at this sentence: “She added that she doesn’t worship Hinduism.” But other than that:

Not long after, Broyles caused a stir in the courtroom by asking Brown to exhibit a series of poses. Upon returning to the witness stand, Broyles inquired whether the series references Hinduism. Brown answered that the order of the sequence is the best way to “warm up the body.” As taught, the series doesn’t have any spiritual or religious significance.

Brown noted one fourth grader expressed her mom’s concerns with the program.

“She shared with me that her mom asked if we were going to be talking about the Buddha,” Brown said.

“I assured her — no, we’re not going to be talking the Buddha,” Brown said. “We’re going to breathe; we’re going to move; we’re going to relax.”

If I get a chance later today, I’ll try to track down court records and determine who, exactly, might be on the witness list — as some have asked. I’m not 100% sure it will be the same folks who filed briefs.

Posted by Steve