San Diego judge may rule today on whether yoga is a religious practice

UPDATE: Yoga does not advance or inhibit religion, said a San Diego Superior Court judge who ruled that the Encinitas Union School District may continue to teach yoga to school children as part of the physical education program.


From today’s “Aren’t we just a little too sensitive?” file comes this news item: A San Diego-area judge may rule today on whether yoga is a religious practice that shouldn’t be allowed to be taught in public schools.

A teacher leads a group of students in a yoga class. (AP)

A teacher leads a group of students in a yoga class. (AP)

The Encinitas Union School District is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its schools. The lessons are funded by a $533,000, three-year grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes Asthanga yoga.

This story left me scratching my head. A little more research revealed that Harvard-educated religious studies professor Candy Gunther Brown found the district’s program is pervasively religious, having its roots in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and metaphysical beliefs and practices.

OK, I’m aware that yoga and Buddhism are sister traditions which evolved in the same spiritual culture of ancient India. They use many of the same terms and follow many of the same principles and practices.

But it would seem that is where the similarities end. Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock do not agree. They are the plaintiffs in the San Diego case.

In the lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court, attorney Dean Broyles argued that the twice weekly, 30-minute classes are inherently religious, in violation of the separation between church and state.

Broyles said his clients are not seeking monetary damages but are asking the court to intervene and suspend the program.

I have to say I’m a little jealous of the Sedlocks, who obviously have so little to worry about they have the time and money to crusade against an activity that promotes good physical and mental health simply because it shares some background with mystical religions.

Superintendent Timothy B. Baird said since the district started the classes at its nine schools in January, teachers and parents have noticed students are calmer, using the breathing practices to release stress before tests.

“We’re not teaching religion,” he told The Associated Press. “We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it.”

I’ll update this story later, but hopefully the judge throws this lawsuit out and moves on to more important matters.

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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