A California court has ruled that teaching yoga in public schools does not promote a religion and does not infringe upon the religious rights of the students or their parents, Al Jazeera is reporting.
Since 2011, public schools in the Encinitas, California school district have offered yoga to the district’s 5,600 students as an alternative to regular gym classes. The classes are paid for by a grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, a group that promotes Ashtanga yoga. The schools offered two 30-minute yoga classes per week to the kids.
Students weren’t officially required to attend the yoga classes, and their parents were allowed to opt them out. About 30 families throughout the district chose to opt their kids out of the yoga classes, according to Fox News.
However, that wasn’t enough for parents Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock. The parents, along with their two kids, filed a lawsuit against the school district, saying that teaching yoga in a public school promotes Hinduism, inhibits Christianity, and violates their First Amendment rights. Their lawyer Dean Broyles claimed that Encinitas’ yoga classes bamboozled the children into reciting Hindu prayers and worshiping a Hindu god.
“No other court in the past 50 years has allowed public school officials to lead children in formal religious rituals like the Hindu liturgy of praying to, bowing to, and worshipping the sun god.”
The Encinitas school district insisted that no such thing was happening, and that their classes were completely secular – devoid of all religious trappings and taught merely as exercises to help promote strength, flexibility, and balance in the kids.
On Friday, a San Diego appeals court agreed. Ruling 3-0 in favor of the schools, the three-judge panel dismissed the notion that the school district’s yoga classes were tied to any specific religion – or to any form of spirituality at all.
“While the practice of yoga may be religious in some contexts, yoga classes as taught in the district are, as the trial court determined, ‘devoid of any religious, mystical, or spiritual trappings.'”
Whether or not practicing yoga – even in bare-bones yoga classes deliberately stripped of all religious and spiritual trimming and focusing solely on exercise – is at its heart a religious practice is a matter of fierce debate, particularly among some devout Christians. In late February, according to this Inquisitr report, TV evangelist Pat Robertson claimed that practicing yoga tricks believers into “speaking Hindu;” other Christian writers have claimed similarly that yoga is actually a form of Hindu worship.
Do you believe that teaching yoga in schools actually promotes a religion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
[Image courtesy of: Shutterstock/Dejan Ristovski]