Today’s the day. Civil rights case pitting Sedlock v. Baird, parents v. school, religion v. yoga, goes on trial today in Encinitas, CA.
The Sedlocks, parents of a child in the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) who have evangelical Christian roots and support, claim that free twice-weekly 30-minute yoga classes threaten religious freedom and, in fact, equal religious indoctrination, whereas the program “unlawfully promotes religious beliefs, while disfavoring and discriminating against other religions.” They are suing the school district’s Superintendant Timothy Baird, who more or less doesn’t really see the problem here, and has spoken out in praise of the program, stating that teachers and parents have noticed that children participating in the yoga sessions are calmer.
He was quoted earlier in the clusterfluffle as saying:
“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.”
But the lawsuit also claims that kids who opt out fall short of their mandatory Phys. Ed. minutes.
We’ve been following this story from threats of parents suing to reaching full lawsuitasana status with a trial date. It is truly an interesting case that boils down to, ‘is yoga religious or not?’ which will be decided in a court of law (with a judge who’s a yogi, by the way) and will perhaps set a precedence, or intimidation factor, for schools around the rest of the country.
If you want to read support for the plaintiffs, check out this 36-page declaration from expert witness Candy Gunther Brown, aPhD and Harvard professor of religious studies, that digs deeper to defend the claim that yoga constitutes religious indoctrination.
In the other corner, are “the intervenors” YES! Yoga for Encinitas Students, a group of parents and supporters of the Ashtanga-based yoga program, that employs full-time yoga teachers within the district’s nine schools and which is made possible by a $533,000 grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation.
In the trial brief, the intervenors assert:
“Context is everything. Plaintiffs contend yoga in any context is equivalent to religious worship. Such myopic assertion ignores the ubiquity of yoga in the modern world. The ancient practice has evolved into a common-place, contemporary exercise routine which includes: hip-hop yoga, paddle board yoga, hangover yoga, yoga for men (known as “broga”), hot yoga, military yoga, kickboxing yoga (known as “koga”), standup paddle-boarding (SUP) yoga, aqua yoga , yoga booty ballet , rope yoga , yoga and chocolate , yoga and capoeira , rock yoga, prenatal yoga , power yoga , restorative yoga, holy yoga, airplane yoga, airport or hotel yoga, hoop vinyasa, belly dance…”
Which may actually be the first time we’re not rolling our eyes in disbelief at all the egregious yoga variations out there (we’re not sure hangover yoga would help the defense?). Read the intervenor’s trial brief here.
Also stepping up in defense of the intervenors is…wait for it…the Yoga Alliance!
In a press release, YA stated:
We disagree with the petitioner’s view that yoga is inherently religious and that teaching yoga in school promotes religion, regardless of context. From our work with the yoga community over the past 13 years, we have interacted with people of many faiths, along with agnostics and atheists, as they engage in the practice and teaching of yoga. We believe that yoga can be taught in a completely secular manner and that children and adults alike can benefit from this transformative practice. We agree with the intervenors that, “EUSD students should not be deprived of their world class yoga program merely because of plaintiffs’ personal bias.”
YA has also helped arrange expert testimony from Chris Chapple, PhD and professor of Indic and comparative religion at Loyola Marymount University (read Chris’ full statement), from YA board chairman, Brandon Hartsell, founder and CEO of Sunstone Yoga in Texas (read Brandon’s full statement) and from Mark Singleton, PhD and professor at St. John’s College ( read Mark’s full statement) all of which have been submitted to the court.
In defense of yoga, Singleton states:
“Krishnamacharya presented a form of yoga that could be open and accessible to all, beyond religious sectarianism, gender, caste or nationality.
…In my opinion, to claim that the practice of yoga techniques in secular, ecumenical, or religiously plural settings in the United States today is inherently religious is akin to claiming that college basketball is inherently religious because of its missionary Christian origins.”
Meanwhile YA’s new-ish CEO Richard Karpel took to USA Today with an opinion column on yoga being for everyone where he argues: “Yoga can clearly be practiced in harmony with any religion, or with no religion, and is diverse and flexible enough to adapt to any setting.”
In addition YA also consulted yoga teachers and academics including:
Michelle Kelsey Mitchell
And now we sit and fold our palms and let the evil spirit of satan suck our soul while we wait patiently for news from the courtroom showdown.
- Trial Date Set for Parents’ Lawsuit Against Encinitas School Yoga Program
- Yoga, ‘It Just Makes My Day’ – Matthew, Age 6
- Swiss High Court Rules Against Parents in Kindergarten Yoga Case
- Yoga: Religious or Spiritual? Priest Bans Yoga From Church as ‘Incompatible with Catholic Faith’