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4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego: Teaching Yoga in Public Schools is NOT Burden on Religious Freedom

— April 14, 2015

The 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego recently upheld a lower court decision dismissing a suit that attempted to prevent Encinitas Union School District from teaching yoga as an alternative to gym classes. In a 3-0 opinion, the panel wrote, “While the practice of yoga may be religious in some contexts, yoga classes as taught in the district are, as the trial court determined, ‘devoid of any religious, mystical, or spiritual trappings.'”

The ruling means that teaching yoga in public schools is not burden on religious freedom. Nor, said the court, is it a gateway to Hinduism. This decision makes Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their kids very disappointed. The family sued the school district on the grounds that yoga promoted Hinduism and inhibited Christianity.

Their attorney, Dean Broyles, said, “No other court in the past 50 years has allowed public school officials to lead children in formal religious rituals like the Hindu liturgy of praying to, bowing to, and worshipping the sun god.”

The school district’s attorney, Paul V. Carelli IV said the school did not teach rituals or worship the sun god and that no one was leading Hindu ceremonies. The school teaches a secular version of yoga with a focus on promoting flexibility, strength and balance. While many schools across the U.S. offer yoga classes, the district believes it is the first to have full-time yoga teachers at all of its schools. A grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, a non-profit promoting Ashtanga yoga, provides two 30-minute classes per week for the district’s 5,600 students.

Since the program’s inception, approximately 30 families have opted out of the voluntary classes.

If you’ve read any of my previous “religious freedom” posts you know this is roughly the time to buckle up. Or, grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.

First it was cake. Then came pizza. Now we’re seeing people challenging yoga. While I can allow that at first glance the uneducated consumer may see yoga as a purely religious practice, any small amount of research (hello… Google!) would easily show that the majority of Americans do not see yoga as a religious practice. By the way, it took me 13.06 seconds to type, “do most Americans believe yoga is a religious practice” and it took Google 0.64 seconds to produce results. So for 13.7 seconds’ work, I was able to have a list of resources that helped answer the question.

I’ll repeat: Most Americans don’t believe that yoga, as practiced in the U.S., is a religious act. Some, like the Sedlocks, argue that yoga is religious in India, so why isn’t it here? Well, in India (78.35% Hindu in population, according to a 2011 census), the culture views yoga as part of their religion. In the U.S., however, it’s much more a form of exercise. Our culture doesn’t see it as a religious activity.

The Sedlocks and their supporters conveniently forget that religion and culture go together like “Hail” and “Mary.” For instance, Christianity as practiced in China, promotes praying for miracles and believing in miraculous “gifts of the Spirit.” This is similar to America’s Pentecostal traditions. However, in China, church leaders are usually women and women make up the majority of churchgoers as opposed to the male dominated practice of Christianity in the U.S.

If the Sedlocks and their supporters wish to ignore the impact of culture on religion, I’d love to hear their answer as to why most preachers in the U.S. are men.

Speaking of convenient ignorance… Correction: speaking of conveniently ignoring things, what about the fact that the Encinitas yoga classes are completely voluntary? The Sedlock children were not being forced to take yoga; instead, they had a choice between yoga and traditional gym classes. How then was their (or their parents’) religious freedom being burdened?

It seems to me that the Sedlocks and their supporters are afraid. The yoga classes did not directly affect them and their children. Of 5,600 students, only about 30 families opted out of the program. Does that make them heretics in the Sedlocks’ eyes? Since their own religious freedom wasn’t being threatened is one to assume they were protecting the rights of others?

If they were being so altruistic (*cough BS cough*), why did they find it OK to protect only the rights of other Christians? Aren’t there other religions, too? Don’t religious freedom acts cover ALL religions?

The logical answer is “Yes.” Yes, there are other religions and yes, they are covered by the various religious freedom acts. I’m still waiting for a Buddhist to come screaming into the media that his religious freedom is being burdened by not being able to chant in a library. Or, a Muslim to come forward demanding that bacon cheeseburgers be outlawed because they violate her beliefs.

Laugh. Go ahead. I’m making these ridiculous statements to point out the sheer idiocy and knee-jerk fear that many Christians are displaying over these acts. If the Buddhist above did come forward, he’d be told to be quiet in the library and laughed out of sight. Similarly, the Muslim woman would be derided for trying to change the world to fit her religious views.

It simply amazes me, in these “enlightened” times, that those Christians who are afraid of cake, pizza and yoga aren’t receiving the same laughter and derision they would heap upon the Buddhist and the Muslim. All in the name of the One True God, of course.

Fortunately, the court in San Diego viewed this issue with common sense and continued to allow a very healthful practice to be taught in the public schools. In an age of video games and being glued to their “electronic appendages,” i.e., cell phones, I applaud the kids who are taking yoga classes. They’re setting a good example for others and doing something to keep their bodies healthy and strong.

As for the Sedlocks and their supporters, I support your right to refuse to let your kids do yoga because:

It’s better to have your children’s bodies be as rigid and inflexible as your minds.



Teaching Yoga in Schools Doesn’t Violate Religious Freedom, Court Rules

Religion and American Law: Is Yoga Religious?

Christianity in China

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