Although yoga may have some religious overtones, the way it’s taught in San Diego schools—with the lotus position renamed “crisscross applesauce”—is a perfectly acceptable method of helping students improve their health, according to Superior Court Judge John Meyer.
With that determination, Judge Meyer rejected a lawsuit filed on behalf of a couple with two children in the Encinitas Union School District that argued a subsidized yoga pilot program being used to defer the cost of physical education was actually a plot to teach religion in school. The judge acknowledged that yoga had obvious religious roots, but that its modern practice in the United States was distinctly secular.
Dean Broyles, the attorney for the couple, argued that the program was a clear “case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens” and using its “coercive powers to promote a particular religious orthodoxy or religious agenda to young and impressionable school children.”
The judge likened it to dodgeball and wondered where the plaintiffs came by their obviously incorrect information about what yoga was and how it was being taught in the schools. The Los Angeles Times quotes Judge Meyer as saying, “It's almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn't what this court does.”
But judging by Wikipedia, that’s not where they are getting their information either. “Yoga is a commonly known generic term for the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace,” according to Wikipedia.
That would be a bit different than Broyles’ understanding of it, who claimed it promoted Hinduism. “The analog would be if we substituted for this program a charismatic Christian praise-and-worship physical education program,” he told the New York Times.
Yoga is offered to students as part of their PE requirement and is paid for by a $533,000 three-year grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes Ashtanga yoga. The three-year pilot program is believed to be the first in the nation to put full-time yoga instructors in each of a district’s schools and has an opt-out option for parents who don’t want their children to participate in the 30-minute, twice-weekly classes. Students are tested to see if the classes improve their health, like blood pressure, make them more attentive, lead to better attendance and improve test scores.
The program is being watched by other cash-strapped school districts that have found their PE instruction eviscerated by tight budgets.
Broyles said he would probably appeal the decision.