Should yoga be allowed in public schools?

A California judge rules that yoga amounts to exercise, not religious indoctrination

(Image credit: Thinkstock)

It is perfectly legal to do yoga at school — at least in southern California's Encinitas Union School District, thanks to a judge's ruling that yoga can be taught in public schools without violating the Constitution's separation of church and state. San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer said in a Monday ruling that yoga, as it was being taught to elementary students, did not amount to religious instruction, so it could continue.

Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, devout Christians, filed a lawsuit last year to block the yoga lessons, which they said amounted to unconstitutional religious indoctrination. Judge Meyer, however, found that the schools had stripped their version of yoga of any trace of its Hindu roots — they called the lotus position the "crisscross applesauce" pose, for example — so it was perfectly acceptable.

Judge Meyer's ruling probably won't end this debate. Attorney Dean Broyles, president of the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy, represented the Sedlocks, and said he would likely appeal. "I think it reveals a double-standard," Broyles tells U-T San Diego. "If it were Christian-based and other parents complained, it would be out of schools. There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in cases like this that involve schools."

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Judge Meyer said that those trying to ban yoga had distorted the nature of the classes being offered to local school kids two days a week to increase the amount of exercise they get at school. Meyer said the critics were citing inaccurate information they found online. "It's almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn't what this court does," Meyer said.

The issue could resurface elsewhere in the country, too. Yoga is an increasingly popular form of meditation and exercise in the U.S., and the public is split on whether it is first and foremost a spiritual practice. The Huffington Post notes that, according to recent Pew Research Center surveys, 49 percent of the general public thinks yoga has a religious element, while just 28 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans agree.

For many yoga enthusiasts, however, the issue is settled. "Despite the quasi-spiritual trappings, yoga, as it's widely practiced by millions of Americans of all faiths, is no instrument of religious indoctrination," says Robin Abcarian in the Los Angeles Times. "It's exercise." The Encinitas schools accepted a half-million dollar grant from the Jois Foundation, named for an influential yoga teacher, to bring in yoga instructors for a health and wellness program, she says, and that is exactly what the children got.

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. [Los Angeles Times]

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