The battle over free yoga taught in an Encinitas school district just went from ugly threat to uglier lawsuit. If you’ve been following along you know that a small group of conservative parents with evangelical Christian roots were up in arms over a twice-weekly taught yoga class at the ironically named Encinitas Union School District claiming yoga classes were pushing Hinduism and violating the First Amendment. And so they hired a lawyer and threatened to sue. They protested at school board meetings, passed out scary “literature” and petitioned to have the classes cancelled, to which superintendant Tim Baird responded, “uh, chill out.”
Here’s what he actually said,
“That’s why we have an opt-out clause,” Mr. Baird said. “If your faith is such that you believe that simply by doing the gorilla pose, you’re invoking the Hindu gods, then by all means your child can be doing something else.”
The classes which are being provided for free by the Jois Foundation (as in Pattabhi Jois, the late Ashtanga Yoga godfather) have supposedly been toned down for kids and involve things like gorilla pose and such and do not promote religious ideals, they say.
Russell Case, a representative of the Jois Foundation also said the parents need to chill.
“They’re concerned that we’re putting our God before their God,” Mr. Case said. “They’re worried about competition. But we’re much closer to them than they think. We’re good Christians that just like to do yoga because it helps us to be better people.”
And yet, one pair of panicky parental units have taken the next step and filed a civil rights lawsuit (pdf here) against the district in San Diego Superior Court last week. Defending the plaintiffs Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their children is attorney Dean Broyles (the president and chief counsel of the National Center for Law and Policy, a nonprofit law firm that champions religious freedom and traditional marriage) who’s been on the case from the start. Broyles argued the twice weekly, 30-minute classes are inherently religious in violation of the separation between church and state.
“EUSD’s Ashtanga yoga program represents a serious breach of the public trust,” Broyles said. “Compliance with the clear requirements of law is not optional or discretionary. This is frankly the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens that I have personally witnessed in my 18 years of practice as a constitutional attorney.”
Apparently the Sedlocks are not out for money in “damages” which is to say um, that would be ridiculous otherwise, but instead just want the program suspended. They claim that students who opted out of the program have been bullied and are missing out on state required fitness time. If so, this is certainly something to consider as school administrators. (Putting our general skeptic’s hat on for a second though, man, are some parents just insufferable and the poor kids have to deal with the consequences. sigh. We can say this because we don’t have kids, but we were kids once and also had parents.)
Baird, who says he has not yet seen the lawsuit, still stands by the yoga offering and maintains this will not put a stop to the classes.
“We’re not teaching religion,” he said. “We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It’s part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it.”
To be fair, this isn’t your usual after school type yoga program, it’s a three-year $533,000 grant funded by the Jois Foundation which will employ full-time yoga teachers at each of the nine schools in the district, likely the first program of its kind in the country. So far, since January, Baird says the teachers and parents have reported back calmer students who use the breathing practices to release stress before tests, not unlike other reports about kids doing yoga.
It shall be noted that a petition started in October to stop the classes, by the end of the year, had about 260 signatures, while a petition to protect the classes had about 2,700 signatures.
However the yoga cookie crumbles, we’re hoping it gets sorted out soon. Unfortunately politics and religion have made it all very messy and sadly the kids are stuck in the middle. Maybe they could have started slowly, like with some yoga balls.
- Parents Denounce Yoga, Demand Ban in Protest of Religious Indoctrination
- Teachers Trade Desk Chairs for Yoga Balls
- Yoga Student Suing Hilaria Baldwin for Negligence Busted as Overzealous Handstander, Says Witness, Alec Baldwin
- Yoga, Therapy Dogs and Recess Help High School Students Cope with Stress and Anxiety