Judge rules in favor of yoga program in Encinitas schools
July 10, 2013
Yoga and children were the big winners last week when a judge ruled that the Encinitas Union School District’s (EUSD) yoga-in-school program doesn’t violate the constitutional prohibition against mixing church and state. Although the ruling is likely to be appealed, the decision permits the EUSD yoga-in-school program to continue, and determined as a matter of fact that the program is not religious in nature, as the plaintiffs in the case had argued.
After a longer-than-anticipated round of closing arguments and deliberation, Judge John Meyer concluded that the program did not endorse or prohibit religion, passing the “Lemon test” that was based on the 1971 case of Lemon vs. Kurtzman. This test provides three questions for judges to consider when determining whether or not separation of church and state has been violated.
The judge largely disregarded the testimony of the plaintiffs’ expert witness, PhD and professor of religious studies, Candy Brown, who argued that yoga is inherently religious, regardless of context or how it is taught. ("The court states that Dr. Brown is not objective and not creditable and Dr. Brown is biased," according to the minute order issued by the Superior Court.) That's hardly surprising, since Judge Meyer commented early in the trial that he would focus specifically on the religious nature of the EUSD program, and not yoga in general. The EUSD program operates in nine schools in Encinitas, teaching yoga to the district’s 5,600 students as a part of the physical education program.
During closing arguments, Dean Broyles, the activist attorney representing the plaintiffs, Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, said that the effort the district made to remove conceivably religious language from the program demonstrates that it was religious to begin with. Jack Sleeth, an attorney for the EUSD, countered in his closing argument, per KPBS News:
“The district didn’t strip out religion. The district started without any religion. But when parents objected, the district attempted to accommodate the parents’ concerns and remove those things the parents thought might be religious.”
Assistant superintendent for the EUSD, David Miyashiro, also commented, per The Coast News:
“Rather than try to convince people language is not religion, let’s just remove that barrier and continue the good work we’re doing.”
Miyashiro, along with Superintendent Timothy Baird, contended that the program was not religious in nature, and was designed with health and relaxation in mind for the students.
Yoga Alliance supported YES! Yoga for Encinitas Students, which had intervened on behalf of EUSD, by arranging for the expert testimony of Chris Chapple, Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology and the Director of Master of Arts in Yoga Studies at Loyola Marymount University, and our chairman, Brandon Hartsell, founder and CEO of Sunstone Yoga. When he announced his ruling from the bench, Judge Meyer specifically read from Hartsell's declaration, according to the minute order and EUSD and YES! counsel, the Coast Law Group.
Reactions from our friends in the yoga community:
“I join Yoga Alliance in applauding the victory in Encinitas. As you may know, this is not the first time yoga in schools has been challenged in court on these grounds. The seminal yoga-in-school organization I founded, Yoga Ed, faced a similar challenge in Aspen schools ten years ago from the First Baptist Church and a small group of parents. Since the Yoga Ed curriculum has always been focused on bringing the intellectual, physical, emotional and social benefits of yoga to children and never contained any Sanskrit words or "religious" references, we were successful in winning our landmark case before a local judge. I remain a passionate believer that yoga is a transformational addition to any school culture. All yoga-in-school programs must continue to be vigilant and committed. Young lives that begin with yoga in schools are on a path to personal success and fulfillment: we can all make it so.”
-- Tara Guber of Yoga Ed
“This is very exciting for us at YoKid and we couldn’t be happier for the students, teachers, and families in Encintas. We love that the judge ruled for what simply makes sense and will benefit the community as a whole - more yoga for more kids is definitely a great thing.”
-- Michelle Kelsey Mitchell of YoKid
“While I'm relieved that the ruling supports teaching yoga in public schools, I'm distressed that the trial framed the issue as a choice between defining yoga as "religion" or "exercise." Neither position is accurate, as neither acknowledges that modern yoga is, in fact, a multidimensional mind/body/spirit practice that's been deliberately untethered from any particular religious or cultural belief system. Hopefully, the trial will motivate the yoga community to think more deeply into the many important issues raised, which deserve more thoughtful consideration.”
-- Carol Horton, PhD
“This won’t be the last case…all politics is local. The larger question is: how to adapt yoga teachings to different situations and environments without diluting their integrity or diminishing their effectiveness.”
-- Philip Goldberg, author of “American Veda”
“This victory highlights the widespread acceptance of yoga as a valid path toward increased well-being for people of all ages!”
-- Chris Chapple, PhD