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School Yoga Classes Not Religious, Judge Says


Kyla Calvert, KPBS Education Reporter

Eugene Ruffin, Ex. Director, KP Jois Foundation

David Loy, Legal Director, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties


The Encinitas Unified School District may continue to teach yoga to students after a judge ruled Monday that the instruction method was not religious.

The Encinitas Union School District may continue to teach yoga to students after a judge ruled Monday that the instruction method was not religious.

Photo by Kyla Calvert

Dean Broyles, president of the conservative Christine National Center for Law and Policy, makes his closing argument in a San Diego Superior Court trial against Encinitas Union School District over yoga in city schools, June 25, 2013.

Judge John S. Meyer said testimony led him to agree with school district assertions the yoga classes were strictly for health and wellness purposes, and had been stripped of "cultural components" that some claim were religious in context.

Meyer likened the six-day trial over the district's yoga classes to a comparative religion course. Meyer agreed with parents who brought the suit against the district that yoga has religious roots and is still a religious practice for some. But he said a resemblance to religious practices does not make the poses Encinitas students do inherently religious. He said gym classes have always involved physical exercises, breath control and lessons in things like respect and perseverance.

“This physical education, health and wellness class is no different," he said, "except that the physical aspect instead of kickball or something else is EUSD yoga.”

Meyers said the district curriculum and lesson plans show no promotion of religion or spirituality. Encinitas Superintendent Timothy Baird said he wasn't surprised the judge ruled in the district’s favor. He’s also still hopeful concerned parents can be convinced.

“Come see a class," he said. "Come observe what your students are doing. And I think if you do you’ll agree with us that this is just exercise.”

But, Dean Broyles, president of the National Center for Law and Policy, a conservative Christian legal group, said he and the parents he represented in the case, Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, are planning to appeal the decision.

“As the judge acknowledged from the bench, he said himself ‘yoga is religious,’" Broyles said. "So if yoga is religious and it’s being taught in EUSD, why is there not a constitutional problem with that?”

Broyles said Meyer's decision cherry picked evidence to show that the classes are secular.

The Encinitas yoga program was started last fall with a $533,000 grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation. The group promotes a form of yoga called Ashtanga and is also funding a study of the yoga classes in the hope of showing that yoga benefits students.

The foundation's involvement was the most problematic issue for Meyer, he wrote in his decision, because the organization clearly has a mission of promoting and spreading Ashtanga yoga. That includes spreading yoga's use in schools. But Meyer decided the district was not complicit in that mission and Baird said the evidence bore that out.

“From the very beginning we were in control of the process of hiring the teachers," he said. "We were in control of the process of writing the curriculum. We have been in control of everything from the very beginning.”

KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Peggy Pico contributed to this Midday and Evening Edition segment

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