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Public School Yoga Program Called ‘Religious’ by Witness

Friday, May 24th, 2013

On the witness stand at the trial concerning whether yoga classes at the public schools in the Encinitas Union School District in Southern California are legal, Indiana University religious studies professor Candy Brown testified that the program is, essentially, religious in nature and therefore inappropriately defined as a purely physical education program.  The San Diego Union-Tribune has more:

The district introduced yoga as a pilot program in 2011 and expanded it to all nine of its schools in January. Funding comes from the KP Jois Foundation, which champions a style of yoga called Ashtanga.

Yoga is part of the campuses’ physical-education offerings, and district officials said students are simply doing stretching exercises with no religious connections. Families uncomfortable with the exercises can have their students opt out.

Some parents said the district should not offer yoga at all because its religious roots can never be eliminated. Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock are suing the district in San Diego Superior Court; they’re being represented by attorney Dean Broyles, president of the Escondido-based National Center for Law & Policy.

Brown, a professor at Indiana University, began her second day on the witness stand Tuesday morning by recalling the origins of Ashtanga yoga and how they have been modified in Encinitas schools. Quoting from the KP Jois Foundation’s literature and referring to her own research, Brown said the very act of performing yoga moves can be considered religious.

“The purpose of Ashtanga yoga is to become one with Brahma,” she said, referring to a Hindu deity.

Brown also said there is no distinction between the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga. Children in the district’s program do not chant or use terms associated with Hinduism, but Brown said that does not make the yoga secular.

“Jois is very, very clear that the practice may appear physical, but that is very, very wrong,” she said. “It produces spiritual transformation.”

Citing written statements from teachers in the district, Brown said there is evidence that some children have chanted while performing poses. Judge John Meyer suggested that those students may have learned the chants outside of school, but Brown said it still demonstrates that they have an understanding of yoga’s spiritual ties.

Image: Girl doing yoga, via Shutterstock

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