Does this count as an answer to the student who says yoga hurt her?

Yesterday, we passed on news that an eighth-grader in Encinitas this week went before the school board to ask that they halt the district’s Sonima Foundation-backed yoga program. As reported by the U-T San Diego:

She and her parents told the U-T that she participated in a variety of yoga warm up and stretching exercises over five months that caused the cartilage tear.

“I spent a number of nights crying,” said Katie, who played soccer and basketball and was nearly a black belt in karate before the injury.

Coincidentally enough, on Tuesday the Sonima Foundation blog highlighted what certainly seems to be an unintended counter argument:

Last week, I had a 5th grade student come up to me at the end of class and tell me how he has been using belly breathing to keep himself calm. He went on to say that when he has to pitch at an important baseball game, he gets really nervous. To help himself calm down and stay focused, he does belly breathing while he is in the dugout and even on the field before each pitch. His mother has noticed he seems calmer and more focused during the game! He also admitted to me that at first, he didn’t like yoga exercise and thought that it was a waste of his time. Now, he understands how the stretching helps him prevent injuries and the breathing helps him stay calm.

Two sides to one yoga coin, huh? As one of our readers pointed out, maybe the girl’s injuries had to do with basketball or soccer, or even karate, rather than yoga. (That’s speculation — but the story doesn’t provide an irrefutable argument about how the family knows it was yoga that caused the injuries.)

I think about the only thing sure here is that, like how the trial is pitting “expert” against “expert”, we probably could line up students who are both “for” and “against” the program.

Posted by Steve

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Student says Encinitas yoga program injured her, requests it be halted

If you’ve been reading our coverage, you know that the debate about the Sonima Foundation’s yoga-in-schools program has had its highest profile in the courts.

Now there’s a new angle.

At this week’s Encinitas Union School District board meeting, an eighth-grader spoke to the board, asking them to stop the program for health and safety reasons.

Health and safety reasons, you ask. Yes. She says the yoga tore cartilage in her hips. Here’s the U-T San Diego’s coverage:

She and her parents told the U-T that she participated in a variety of yoga warm up and stretching exercises over five months that caused the cartilage tear.

“I spent a number of nights crying,” said Katie, who played soccer and basketball and was nearly a black belt in karate before the injury.

Her parents, Darryn and Karen Prince, said they didn’t actually discover the hip problems until Katie’s seventh grade year at Diegueno Middle School when she continued to complain about pain. Her diagnosis didn’t come until late 2013 following visits to a pediatrician and an orthopaedic surgeon.

“We didn’t know it was coming as a result of yoga until we were told this,” said Karen Prince.

The family was joined at Tuesday’s meeting by about 20 supporters — most of whom were wearing yellow t-shirts with “I’m for P.E.” printed on the front.

The board didn’t comment back at the meeting — but this is now something (else) to watch.

Posted by Steve

Encinitas yoga trial: ‘Tired rhetoric’ vs. ‘precedent-setting litigation’

I suppose you could call this a tale of two courtrooms.

On Wednesday, the two sides in the ongoing legal case surrounding yoga’s being taught in Encinitas public schools — by the Ashtanga-related Sonima Foundation — were back in court. Their takes on the preceding differ, as you might suspect.

Up first, the supporters of the yoga program:

Dean Broyles, the attorney for the yoga opponents, was first up.  He had the burden of showing the trial court erred in finding the yoga program Constitutional.  And the appellate justices made very clear that he was fighting an uphill battle.  Mr. Broyles offered up his tired rhetoric about the school district picking “religious winners and losers”.  The justices largely ignored such bloated proclamations and instead peppered him with pointed questions about the activity taking place in the yoga classroom.  Since his clients had never even observed, let alone participated, in the yoga classes, Mr. Broyles was left to rely upon his expert’s opinion that religion was “pervasive” in those classes based on video evidence.  The justices seemed unimpressed.

Next up was the school district’s attorney, followed by CLG partner Dave Peck on behalf of YES!.  Mr. Peck reminded the justices that the trial judge found the opinions of Mr. Broyles’ religious expert to be highly biased and “not credible.”  The trial court also found that the EUSD curriculum was completely devoid of religion and that there was absolutely no evidence of religious or spiritual instruction in the yoga classrooms.  With respect to the video evidence relied upon by the opposing expert, Mr. Peck cited the trial court’s finding that the videos simply depicted children engaged in exercise and nothing more.  Mr. Peck urged the court to reject Mr. Broyles’ conspiracy theories and to allow the highly successful yoga program to continue.

And then the formal press release from the National Center for Law & Policy:

In court today, Dean Broyles argued that “to attempt to strip religion from objectively religious rituals, to try to separate the metaphysical from the physical, is a fool’s errand.” “Take for example a catholic mass, which involves standing and kneeling, bowing in prayer, making the sign of the cross, and taking communion (Eucharist). Would the Establishment Clause allow that a catholic mass is an acceptable replacement for P.E, if given in Latin or silently, and if relabeled ‘calisthenics’ or if its communion portion is called ‘snack time,’ or if the program were relabeled ‘EUSD Mass?’ Absolutely not! Neither should yoga’s formal Hindu rituals be taught in public schools.”

“If permitted, this will open up a religious Pandora ’s Box,” declared Broyles after the hearing. If the courts allow these Hindu liturgies to continue, we will see of flood of religious organizations mimicking the Sonima Foundation’s approach, attempting to purchase access to young impressionable public school students, while at the same time deceptively concealing their religious beliefs and practices.”

The thrust of our argument today was that, because the trial court failed to find that teaching children of a young age with tender consciences formal religious rituals in school-sponsored classes violates the Establishment clause, it erred as a matter of law and the appellate court is bound by well-established legal precedents to reverse and find the District’s yoga program is unconstitutional.

Broyle also said this, according to the release: “The District completely ignores the inconvenient truth that its students are bowing to, praying to, and worshipping the Hindu sun god in yoga classes, by being led through the Surya Namaskara.”

I suppose I’d question whether the “Hindu sun god” is really worshiped anymore in the way that argument suggests. I feel like it is sort of akin to Greek or Roman gods, as opposed to Siva or Krishna, or Ganesha. Of course, it isn’t that simple. If I were trying to indoctrinate kids in a new religion, I’d probably not focus on Surya, is what I’m saying.

Wednesday’s preceding was before a three-judge panel, who will decide the appeal within the next three months.

Update: UT San Diego coverage. Short version: Sounds like the judges were skeptical.

Posted by Steve

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.

[snip]

“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