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WSJ: Court Rules Yoga Classes in Calif. School District Are OK

By    |   Monday, 06 April 2015 04:55 PM

Practicing yoga in elementary school physical education classes is legal and will not turn your child into a Hindu.

That's the word from a California appeals court, which has ruled that yoga classes taught as part of physical education to 5,500 students in nine schools in the Encinitas Union School District do not violate either state or federal laws protecting freedom of religion, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The lawsuit was filed by Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, whose said their two children were being taught yoga as "a Hindu religious exercise or practice that is simultaneously physical and religious."

A lower court found that the program in Encinitas is "devoid of any religious, mystical or spiritual trappings," and the California Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed, commenting in its decision, "It is clear that while yoga may be practiced for religious reasons, it cannot be said to be inherently religious or overtly sectarian. In the absence of evidence that the District’s program advances religion, no religious coercion is present," the Journal reported.

The parents were represented by the National Center for Law & Policy (NCLP), whose chief counsel Dean Broyles told ABC News, "If you research yoga and Hinduism, most people would say Hinduism is yoga and yoga is Hinduism. It's a situation where the state is endorsing religious beliefs and practices, which is forbidden under California and federal law."

The court found, "We conclude that the program is secular in purpose, does not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and does not excessively entangle the school district in religion." The Economic Times reported.

The twice-weekly, 30-minute classes are funded by a $2 million, three-year grant from the Sonima Foundation, India Today notes, and the schools teach an altered form of Ashtanga yoga.

For example, the full-lotus position is called "crisscross applesauce," and other positions are similarly renamed, the Journal notes, and all religious Hindu references have been removed.

District Superintendent Tim Baird told India Today, "We are seeing tremendous results. Kids are more flexible, stronger, and have more ability to focus.

"Yoga has become ubiquitous in the United States. The argument that it turns somebody into a Hindu is a stretch."

"The EUSD yoga program is not religiously neutral and undermines the religious free exercise rights of and discriminates against Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon and other children and parents by offering only participation in religious activities that violate their religious beliefs and practices," the NCLP said.

The Journal notes that there were 24.3 million yoga enthusiasts in the U.S. in 2013.

The Guardian reported that children from about 30 families have dropped the yoga classes since the program began in 2011.

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