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Yoga Goes On Trial Today: Encinitas Case Pitting Parents Against School Yoga Classes and ‘Religious Indoctrination’

in Lawsuit-asana, YD News, Yoga Feuds
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Yoga instructor Kristen McCloskey leads a class of third-graders in Encinitas, Calif., in December. | Photo: Gregory Bull, AP via usatoday.com

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:

Susan Camean
Chris Chapple
Philip Goldberg
Tara Guber
Carol Horton
Michelle Kelsey Mitchell
Hari kirtana-das
Wendy Maines
Peter Rood
Mark Singleton
Lola Williamson

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.

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18 comments… add one

  • Desiree

    Great statement by Chris Chappel. Well played, Dr. Chapel. Well played.

  • TK

    Funny to me…that the New Christianity gets to define what anything else is, including yoga, but only from a Christian POV…Conversely, anyone who dares to define the sheer hypocrisy between Christians and Christianity gets stoned by the believers…My takeaway is this. Call it Breathe Stretch Nap…..then this GIGANTIC tragedy gets put away until the Religious Right wants to feel put upon, then they’ll beat the drum until someone listens…This whole controversy is a fart in the wind.

  • Thank you YogaDork for covering (with humor and unbias) this important issue. Surprised to see so little coverage today. As always, you are right up in front with your hand up!

  • I am a Orthodox Jew and run a yoga teacher’s training 200 hr Yoga Alliance certified course for religious Jewish women (www.kinneretyogatraining.com). We have done extensive research and teach on our course that Yoga has been secularized to such a degree in the West that it does not have to come into conflict with Western religious observance. Mark Singleton’s writings have been at the forefront of our education about the true history of the evolution of yoga and his research would greatly shed light on this particular case or for anyone who is conflicted in this matter.

  • Semper Fi

    All this makes for good drama, but the sad reality is when something has to go to trial it’s already dead in many peoples’ eyes.

  • Jen

    Um, I guess all the Christian Church’s around this country that host weekly Yoga Classes are somehow betraying their faith now? Here’s a little education….

    Yoga was developed nearly 5000 years ago by either a single monk or a group of monks called Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras, which very clearly endorse spiritual study, does not endorse any particular religion. The sanskrit words and images common to traditional yoga practices are words that were comfortable to the people of the region who were practicing during that time. While many of the eastern religions embrace and endorse Yoga, Yoga does not claim a religious Dharma, so therefore, it is not a religion.

    In fact, the IRS refuses to recognize Yoga Studios as places of Worship, even if that studio operates 100% on donation basis, and incorporates a great deal of energy into the spiritual study side of practice. So if the people who tax studios says that its not a religion, and the people that created it said it is not a religion, what gives some ignorant religious extremist who barely understands their own religion, much less spirituality, the right to deprive kids of the opportunity to practice something that is specifically designed to teach them to live a balanced, peaceful, loving lifestyle. The Jesus I studied taught the very same principles that are included in the Yoga Sutras.

    Maybe those parents should each be given a copy of the Yoga Sutras and be asked to read and site specifically where it goes against any of their moral or religious beliefs.

  • Nick

    Of course the yoga sutras are a religious text. Maybe the part about breathing fire, levitating, or being as large as the universe?

    Or maybe sutra 1.19, which satchidananda translates as “those who merely leave their physical bodies and attain the state of celestial deities, or those who get merged with nature, have rebirth.”

    Or 1.23, Isvarapranidhanat va, is often translated as being about total devotion to god.

    Your claim that yoga was invented by patanjali is also bizarre. Assuming Patanjali actually existed and penned the yoga sutras, he was clearly writing about a thing that already existed for a long time when he started doing it.

    Just because you like yoga, and your yoga practice isn’t religious, DOESN’T mean that yoga CAN’T be religious.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the yoga sutras, it’s just that what you write about them is completely lacking in truth. The yoga sutras say that step 1 of yoga is to be noninjurious to yourself and others. Step 2 is to be truthful.

  • Ted

    I admire your deep knowledge about the subject. Can you please give me some more info that Yoga sutras is religious?

  • Chris

    Yoga is inextricably interwoven with Hinduism. Indeed, Yoga is Hindu. Anybody who dabbles in any aspect of Yoga is, indeed, dipping his toes in the sublime pool of Hinduism. For many of us, this is all good.

    The vast, deep river of Hinduism flows quietly and peacefully, making available its cooling, nourishing waters to any who seeks to quench his or her Thirst. The peaceful, mighty river of Hinduism has flowed gently for 5000 years, nourishing Billions of Souls, but has never once breached its banks and flooded its surroundings to cruelly thrust its waters upon those who never sought it. In 5000 years, there has not been one Hindu terrorist, one Hindu Conquistador or one Hindu Inquisition.

    Hinduism is the most inclusive religion on earth, going so far as to say that every living soul can ultimately attain Godhood, and that the Self and the Divine are not two different things. The Self can be trained to reach higher states, and ultimately attain the Divine.

    Thus, anybody who embarks on the quest for Self-Realization is already a good Hindu. Thus, one could belong to a Christian Denomination, and still be a good Hindu.

    Indeed, there is reason to believe that JC himself may have been the World’s first Semitic Hindu.

    JC journeyed to India in his youth (the missing years of JC’s life, that the Bible won’t talk about), and apprenticed himself in the Gurukuls and Ashrams of the learned Hindu Rishis (sages) of India. There, the excellent pupil JC imbibed the ancient Hindu philosophies from his Gurus, and himself became an enlightened, self-realized soul – a Mahatma, a true Yogi. The enlightened JC then traveled back to the Middle East to preach to his people the wisdom he had acquired in India.

    JC’s teachings are very much in consonance with Hinduism :

    (1) “As you sow, so shall you reap ” —> This is JC’s exquisite way of stating the Hindu law of Karma.

    (2) ” Let him throw the first stone, who has not sinned ”.
    This is JC’s recognition of the fact that all souls (Aatmas) present on this earth are present on the earth, only because these souls are as yet, not without sin.
    The Hindu philosophy of Reincarnation (Punar-Janam) believes that the soul (Aatma) is indestructible, and undergoes several cycles of Birth, Life, Death and Rebirth. If properly guided, an Aatma attains a higher-state-of-being in each successive life, until that Aatma ultimately becomes self-realized and sinless, and attains Moksha ( Liberation from the cycle of Birth, Life, Death and Rebirth). Thus, any Aatma that is actually present on this earth, is, as yet, not without sin, and is at only some intermediate point along this Great-Journey towards becoming a self-realized soul.

    (3) There is much evidence to suggest that JC was a vegetarian, which would be in tune with the Yogic Principle of Ahimsa.

    (4) After surviving the Crucifixion, JC sought safe-haven in his Alma-Mater India, and once again journeyed to the Kashmir region of India, where he lived to a ripe old age. JC is buried in Kashmir. ( Kashmir is the land of the ancient Hindu sage, Rishi Kashyapa. The name Kashmir comes from the Sanskrit “Kashyapa-Meru” ( Kashyapa’s Lake) ).

    (5) Being a self-realized Soul, JC recognized that there are several different Paths to Enlightenment. Thus, JC never said peevish things like, ” I am the ONLY WAY” ( meaning, I am the only ticket to Heaven). These mean-spirited statements were, after JC’s passing, disingenuously inserted into the Bible, and falsely attributed to JC, by the Vatican (the Marketing Department of the Unholy Roman Empire) as part of its Empire-Building-Strategy, via the Giant Pyramid Scheme of Catholicism.

  • I am intrigued by your comments Chris. Is there a particular reference for the information you presented about the “Missing Years” in India? I would very much like to share that with some people. I was raised as a Catholic-and even as a child I always felt that there were pieces missing to the JC story. Currently, I teach adaptive yoga to kids with special needs. I have found yoga to be helpful on so many levels and for so many people and I think this Encinitas lawsuit is a bit ridiculous. The parents seem to be acting out of fear and misunderstanding rather than educated objection!

  • Nick

    I am also super interested in any reputable documents associated with this.

  • CHAN

    ewwww

    why r your headlines so clunky and boring?

    learn how to write a good catchy headline already

  • BRR

    Clunky or not, boring or not, the headline got your attention didn’t it? How ’bout you use proper grammar next time you whine about headlines?

  • CHAN

    it only got my attention because it was so bad

    I scrolled down and picked the worst one I could find in 4 seconds

    I can’t even tell you what the article is about except Encinitas

    if u think that’s whining, you are silly

  • YD

    Flashy headlines aren’t really the goal here, Chan. And catchy doesn’t always equal good. But your suggestions are welcome. And…go!

  • Yoga is great and seriously if yoga was taught and integrated into schools, there would be less childhood obesity and physical ailments. Here is an article that speaks about the numerous benefits of Yoga:

    http://fitz101.com/top-benefits-of-yoga/

  • The health benefits of Yoga are well documented. Personally, I’ve tried it and it’s simply amazing!

  • Oh My Gosh, don’t some of those classes even tell the kids to breath ?? Can’t have breathing, especially while doing any form of exercises. Next thing you know , the schools will be telling the kids to drink water.

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