≡ Menu
YogaDork

The Two Sides to the Mindboggling Encinitas Yoga Trial, Or When Yoga and Religion Meet in Court

in Featured, Lawsuit-asana

Heavens to Betsy. So here’s a non-shocker, the “so esoteric it’s almost meaningless” yoga trial in Encinitas is set to go on longer than expected. If you’ve been avoiding keeping up with the Sedlock v. Baird case til now, we don’t blame you, it’s a doosie. But if you wanted to catch up on the courtroom action you could very well get two different stories of how it’s going, depending on who you ask.

nclp

For instance, you could follow the news via the facebook page for The National Center for Law Policy, a Constitution crusading non-profit organization defending religious freedom and apparently innocent children from the perils of yoga in school (and also rooting against gay marriage). NCLP President, Dean Broyles, is the attorney for the Sedlocks, the parents who believe the free yoga program at the Encinitas Union School District “unlawfully promotes religious beliefs, while disfavoring and discriminating against other religions” and so sued the school’s superintendant, Timothy Baird.

yes-yoga-encinitas

On the other side, you have yoga supporters and the Yes! Yoga for Encinitas Students association that formed solely to support the program after the lawsuit hit. They defend the program and want it to continue. Their recap of the courtroom events is slightly different.

We would like to spare you the added frustration, but for the sake of argument and the United States Judicial System (this is a trial after all!), we’ll post both wrap-up comments from last week’s first three days of trial. Thanks to Ashtanga news site The Confluence Countdown for pointing out the disparities.

Via the NCLP May 2013 “e-publication”:

THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR LAW & POLICY NEWS RELEASE 

May 28, 2013 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

CONTACT NCLP MEDIA RELATIONS:  (760) 747- 4529  

Yoga on Trial, Part II:  Sedlock v. Baird will resume June 24 & 25, 2013.   

 

SAN DIEGO, CA — Attorneys for the National Center For Law & Policy (NCLP) were in court last week in a trial where the definition of religion and the close ties between Hinduism and yoga were examined.  The trial will resume June 24 with more witness testimony.  Closing arguments will occur June 25, and a statement of decision is expected June 26, 2013.

The lawsuit is the result of the Encinitas Union School District’s (EUSD) decision to accept $533,720 from the K.P. Jois Foundation in exchange for providing the religiously-motivated organization access to the district’s young and impressible students in order to test, prove, and nationally promote the feasibility of Jois’ “health and wellness”Ashtanga  yoga curriculum.  The foundation’s reason for existence is to spread the “gospel” of Ashtanga yoga by targeting children in public schools. The lawsuit seeks a writ of mandate and injunctive relief to order EUSD to comply with the California Constitution’s religious freedom provisions and a state education statue requiring EUSD to provide a mandatory minimum number of physical education minutes.  The NCLP proudly represents petitioners Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their minor children, who are students in the district.

Religious Studies’ professor Candy Gunther Brown, who is the petitioners’ expert witness, was on the stand for more than four hours.  Dr. Brown is eminently qualified to opine on religious matters including yoga and has an A.B. (summa cum laude), A.M. and Ph. D from Harvard. During her direct examination conducted by attorney Dean Broyles, Dr. Brown defined religion, discussed Hinduism, and confirmed yoga’s direct connection to Hindu, Buddhist, and Western Metaphysical religious beliefs and practices.  Professor Brown specifically evaluated EUSD’s yoga program, which is based largely on Ashtanga yoga, and expressed a very expert well-informed opinion that EUSD’s yoga program is pervasively religious.  When the trial transcripts are available, we will post them on our website so that a more complete and accurate picture can emerge regarding how powerful and effective Dr. Brown was at trial.  Predictably, District representatives like

Superintendant Timothy Baird, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, continued to repeat the tired “it is not religious, trust us” mantra in the courtroom. EUSD and Intervener (YES) attorneys Jack Sleeth and David Peck attempted in vain to cross-examine Dr. Brown, only serving to strengthen her credibility and testimony.

Reading from the wrong website, attorney David Peck asked misleading questions implying that a grant Dr. Brown received was from a Christian organization.  However, the grant Dr. Brown received was actually from the John Templeton Foundation, which is not a Christian organization.  Mr. Peck’s error was corrected in the story posted at

http://www.nbcsandiego.com.

Ms. Andrea Silver, EUSD’s purported “yoga” expert, was not qualified as a religious studies expert as was Dr. Brown.  Therefore, Ms. Silver was limited to only testifying about her personal experiences and personal beliefs about yoga.  On the stand, she confirmed that she knew little about either Ashtanga yoga or EUSD’s yoga curriculum.

Under cross examination by Dean Broyles, she admitted that she was not an expert regarding Ashtanga yoga and her testimony fell apart.  As the actual transcripts will reveal, the relative quality of the EUSD’s and Petitioners’ experts could not have been more pronounced.

“As a constitutional attorney with more than 18 years experience, I am very familiar with nearly every important Establishment Clause opinion and I can say with full confidence that EUSD’s program represents the clearest case I have observed of the government advancing, endorsing, or promoting religion. In this case it is Hinduism and yoga, on one hand, and inhibiting, disapproving, and discriminating against Christianity and other religions, on the other,” declared NCLP president Dean Broyles.

“Furthermore, I have never seen a starker example of government “‘excessive entanglement’” with religion as has occurred in this case.”  EUSD’s yoga program represents a prime example of precisely why in America we do not allow the government to pick religious winners and losers, especially when you have a captive audience of very young and impressionable children as we do in our public schools.”

“David Peck’s unfortunate approach to this case appears to employ misdirection by trying to put Christianity on trial. I was deeply disappointed to see David engage in intolerant name calling and attempt to fan the flames of anti-Christian bigotry, by arguing in his opening statement that the “‘fanatical prism’” of extreme parents is irrelevant.  Concerned Christian parents have raised legitimate First Amendment concerns about the yoga program and deserve the same justice and respect in our courts as any other faith group.

“We appreciate the time and attention Judge Meyer is giving us to try this important case. We will fight this case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.  Religious freedom is not for sale.  We must not permit our children to be auctioned off by careless public servants to the highest bidder, especially for Jois’ self-serving purposes of religious experimentation and religious marketing.   It was wonderful to have the support of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) at trial in the form of the moral support and assistance of ADF Senior counsel Bradley Abramson and ADF trained attorney and NCLP affiliate attorney Robert Reynolds,” stated Dean Broyles.

The lawsuit does not seek money damages, but rather seeks to immediately suspend EUSD’s religiously divisive Ashtanga yoga program and restore traditional physical education to the district.

Please address all media inquiries to The National Center for Law & Policy.  We ask that you respect the privacy of the Sedlock family, whose children’s names have been withheld to protect their privacy.

The National Center for Law & Policy is a non-profit 501(c)(3) legal defense organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties. http://www.nclplaw.org

For comment, please contact The National Center for Law & Policy at 760-747-4529 or 

dcarter@nclplaw.org.   

And the other side of the story, commentary posted May 24 on the YES! website.

Three days of trial have now been completed in the yoga lawsuit Sedlock v. Baird, et. al.  And it’s not over yet.  While the parties had agreed this would be a two day trial, the plaintiffs’ case, as presented by attorney Dean Broyles, has dragged on and on.  Due to pre-planned vacation and trial schedules, the court has ordered a month-long hiatus in the proceedings.  Trial will resume on Monday, June 24 with testimony from the Sedlocks and EUSD assistant superintendent Dr. David Miyashiro.  Closing arguments will then proceed on Tuesday, June 25.  Judge Meyer has indicated that closing arguments will be critical to his decision and he may even render a preliminary decision from the bench that day.  CLG partner Dave Peck, who has been actively litigating the case on behalf of YES!, provides the following report:

DISPATCH FROM THE FRONT LINES:

Dear YES! Families:  First and foremost, thank you so very much for your support of the EUSD yoga program and our efforts to protect it.  Superintendent Baird, who has been at my side at counsel table throughout the trial, shares his gratitude to YES! for joining the fight.  And what a fight it’s been…..

Many folks scoffed at the notion of this lawsuit and predicted it would be quickly tossed out of court.  While such sentiments are understandable, most people seem to have underestimated plaintiffs’ resolve.  Mr. Broyles, his clients and other yoga opponents have devoted significant resources to this case.  For them, it’s a battle of good versus evil.  Right versus wrong.  They view us yoga supporters as naïve at best, blasphemous at worst.  During a break in the proceedings Jennifer Sedlock even referred to me as “the enemy” while passing in the court hallway.

Like many conspiracy-theorists, plaintiffs see a hidden and evil agenda at work in the school district.  They contend the overwhelming majority of us parents are just too blind to see it.  We naively view yoga as just a great exercise program for our kids.  That intended perception, in the words of plaintiffs’ retained religion expert Dr. Candy Brown, is just “camouflage.”  For example, changing the names of the yoga poses to kid-friendly terms is a camouflage tactic according to Dr. Brown.  She thus accused the school district of being complicit in such camouflage tactics.

According to Dr. Brown, the Jois Foundation is using EUSD yoga instructors as “foot soldiers” in furtherance of its Hindu agenda.  These instructors are being used, whether they know it or not, to make yoga look like a benign exercise.  Once kids/families buy-in to the physical and mental  benefits, and are thus “hooked” on the program, they will become vulnerable to religious indoctrination in more advanced yoga classes in their later years.  Dr. Brown even agreed with Judge Meyer when he commented that it sounded like she was describing yoga as a “gateway drug.”

I had the opportunity to vigorously cross-examine Dr. Brown.  She tended to avoid direct questions and gave many long-winded, esoteric responses.  Judge Meyer noted that Dr. Brown, who has a book on religion coming out this summer, seemed to be relishing her moment in the spotlight.  Her testimony was indeed akin to a doctorate level university lecture.

Dr. Brown testified that, in addition to yoga, she believes karate, tae kwon do (an Olympic sport), acupuncture and chiropractic care are each religious practices.  Citing a variety of suspect evidence, Dr. Brown opined that the EUSD yoga program is “pervasively religious” even though concepts of religion, spirituality, devotion, belief, etc. are not discussed in the classes.  In fact, she claimed that by stripping the program of all conspicuous religious content the district was engaging in further “camouflage” of the true Hindu agenda.  Even just posing one’s body in certain positions – without intent, words or conscious thought – constitutes religious practice according to Dr. Brown.  The inference was that these yoga poses have some magical, transformative qualities.  Importantly, there has been no evidence that anyone in the district believes the poses are supernatural and the kids are certainly not being taught such nonsense.

Plaintiffs have also made much ado about the Jois Foundation and its promotion of health and wellness.  Claiming the foundation is a thinly-veiled vehicle for Hinduism, Mr. Broyles and Dr. Brown suggested something sinister is at work in the district partnering with this organization.  As we have pointed out, however, the district has also partnered with the YMCA and Leichtag Foundation, organizations which respectively promote Christian and Jewish values.  While we ALL agree that religion has no place in the public schools, the mere fact that program funding is received from religiously-affiliated organizations has never been held unconstitutional.  In the eyes of the law it’s the programs which matter, not their funding sources.  (And to be clear, there is no evidence that the Jois Foundation seeks to promote some uniquely Hindu values.)

The character development portions of the health and wellness curriculum have also been scrutinized, with plaintiffs questioning why such things are being taught in P.E.  The suggestion, of course, is that such character teachings must have a religious slant.  Jen Brown, the EUSD yoga instructor at Capri (who was an excellent witness for our defense), pulled the rug out from under such arguments.  She explained at length how she occasionally teaches kids about kindness, cleanliness (“We wash our hands before we eat”) and empathy (“How would you feel if something mean was said about you?”).  In response to my questioning, Ms. Brown (Jen Brown, not plaintiffs’ expert Dr. Brown) acknowledged that no parents have ever complained about the content of the occasional character lessons.  Indeed, regardless of our respective religious beliefs, these character lessons are consistent with concepts we ALL want our kids to understand.

Jen Brown is a very experienced Ashtanga yoga practitioner and instructor who has studied extensively in India and elsewhere.  While plaintiffs have advanced repeated claims that Ashtanga yoga is inherently religious, Ms. Brown easily debunked such claims.  She credibly explained that, despite her years of Ashtanga exposure, she has never been taught anything about Hinduism or religion.  She further detailed the numerous ways in which the EUSD yoga program is wholly distinct from Ashtanga or any other form of yoga.  Indeed, all evidence supports that “EUSD Yoga”, as it’s been called during the trial, is its own unique kid-friendly style of yoga.  Even if Ashtanga yoga is perceived by plaintiffs to be inherently religious or spiritual, that’s NOT what our kids are being taught.  Even Dr. Brown, the plaintiff’s expert, conceded that Ashtanga requires strict adherence to a specific sequencing of poses which is substantially different from what’s being taught at EUSD.

Mr. Broyles grilled Jen Brown at length.  He suggested she worships the sun, and teaches students to do so, by performing a “sun salutation” yoga pose in which the arms are stretched upward.  Ms. Brown explained how the pose at issue, part of an “opening sequence” utilized in many forms of yoga, is simply an initial stretch of the back and shoulder muscles designed as a warm up for more challenging poses.  Broyles pressed on, seeking an admission that the yoga poses she teaches are not mere exercises but, in fact, a means by which she seeks to establish a “connection with the divine.”  Ms. Brown repeatedly testified she had no idea what Mr. Broyles was talking about.  In sum, she was impressive, engaging and sincere on the stand.  I suggest we all give Jen our thanks next time we see her.

Ultimately, the constitutional question to be resolved by Judge Meyer is whether, when viewed objectively by a student, the yoga program promotes or inhibits religion.  Notably, the “objective observer test” does not contemplate what a biased religious studies professor might perceive.  Indeed, after listening to Dr. Brown, I am convinced that she could find religious elements in virtually any activity our kids participate.  Noting her implication that religion is everywhere, Judge Meyer mused that perhaps all parents should simply home school their kids if there’s such a great concern about the slippery-slope influences of a public education.  The reality is that kids are not programmed to view stretching or exercise as religious – unless they are somehow pre-programmed to look at it that way.  Objectively, EUSD yoga is as secular as an aerobics class.

While there’s still more evidence to be offered during this trial, I really like our chances.  From both constitutional and common sense perspectives, the evidence is on our side.  Again, your support is greatly appreciated.

All the best,

Dave

The trial will resume June 24 with closing arguments on June 25. A decision is expected June 26. We shall see. We’ll echo Mr. Broyles: “Your continuing prayers are greatly appreciated!”

——

Earlier

 

4 comments… add one

  • James

    I look forward to reading how Dr. Brown defined “religion”. Hopefully, the definition is so broad that it loses all meaning.

  • dismal

  • Melody

    I would love to hear Dr. Brown’s explanation of how standing or Tadasana is “religious”.

  • Are the parents Fundamental Christians? The article was lengthy and I might have missed that part. I don’t see how practicing yoga is religious, but there are fundamental religions that see evil everywhere except their own religion.

Leave a Comment