Saturday, July 13, 2013

California judge hands down yoga-friendly decision in church-state separation debate

Several weeks ago, parents of two children attending a school in the Encinitas Union School district sued the district for allowing the implementation of a yoga program in their children’s school. The parents claimed, “the Ashtanga yoga classes being offered in place of more traditional physical education instruction indoctrinate the children.” Earlier this week, the judge disagreed with the parents and ruled in favor of the school district. The judge disagreed with the parents’ assertion that yoga is “inherently religious and a violation of church and state.”

All nine schools within the district participate in the yoga program. The yoga program is funded by a grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation—a 501(c)(3) that implements “the techniques of yoga, meditation and proper nutrition to create a positive lifestyle” as part of the school curriculum.

The school district argued that the program was implemented “to promote a healthy lifestyle for the students” and that there was a “conscious decision to remove some cultural context” of yoga. The district went as far as removing chanting from lessons after parents complained and changing the names of some of the yoga poses.

While “religious” is an enumerated 501(c)(3) purpose, there is no clear definition of “religious.”  What is the best argument for claiming the yoga program has a religious purpose? What does the case law say? Is it sufficient that the organization implementing the program doesn't claim to have a religious purpose? If there is something inherently religious about yoga, does the school’s attempts to remove some of the cultural context of yoga make it an appropriate school program?


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