A San Diego judge must decide whether a local school district’s yoga program violates separation of church and state laws by promoting religion and spirituality.
Judge John S. Meyer recently heard testimony about Ashtanga yoga being part of the curriculum within the Encinitas Union School District. After receiving a $500,000 grant, students practice yoga as part of P.E.
Opponents of the program say that the classes are being used to "spread the gospel" of Ashtanga yoga. They want the yoga classes, which are currently being taught in all nine schools in the district, to be suspended immediately, Newser reported.
Attorney Dean Broyles argues Ashtanga yoga is inherently religious and that teaching the poses violates the policy of separating church and state.
The Encinitas school district's attorney, Jack Sleeth, disputed that notion. “There is no belief taught about any movement the child is engaged in,” Sleeth said.
Encinitas Union School District Superintendent Timothy Baird said that administrators of the yoga initiative removed images of yoga sanskrit and changed the names of poses before the program was launched. “Initially we made a conscious decision to remove some cultural context,” Baird said.
Yoga instructor Jennifer Nicole Brown said that the way she teaches at the schools is fairly tame. “What we do in the school district is completely different to the way that I would teach adults in a traditional Ashtanga school,” Jennifer Nicole Brown testified.
Candy Brown, Ph.D., of Indiana University, testified about the basic principles of yoga.
“Many yoga traditions, not just in the past but also today, share a religious goal and that goal is human salvation,” she said. “That frames this as something more than exercise,” she concluded.