Is yoga religious act? Yes, says California law suit

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A lawyer who believes that religious freedom is fundamental to American ethos has filed a lawsuit against yoga, the best-know export from India along with spices and software.

Escondido attorney Dean Broyles's case against Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) has made him a most hated man in the community San Diego area.

The case has been filed against a school district in California seeking to suspend a controversial yoga programme which parents feel "unlawfully" promote religious beliefs.

The lawsuit filed by National Center for Law and Policy, on behalf of aggrieved parents, urged the San Diego Superior Court to immediately suspend 'Ashtanga Yoga' programme of the EUSD and restore traditional physical education.


Broyles is president and chief counsel of the nonprofit NCLP and has filed the first of its kind in the United States. He argues in the suit that the district is violating laws protecting the separation of church and state because its yoga program contains religious elements. The California constitutional provisions prohibit government religious preference and religious discrimination.

However, the coastal North County, where Christians and people of other faiths commonly frequent yoga studios, feel that the yoga was a secular exercise.

The district's curriculum refers to benefits like to be very suitable for young people because it provides a good physical workout. But it also brings calmness and clarity to the mind. It also states that it helps students "connect more deeply with their inner selves and develop an understanding with the natural world that surrounds them." It also said that "yoga brings the inner spirit of each child to the surface."

But the controversy erupted because Encinitas also is home to conservatives, who have objected to a perceived gay agenda, and the teaching of "The Catcher in the Rye" in their schools.

The lawsuit received support of Harvard educated religious studies Professor Candy Gunther Brown. According to Brown the Ashtanga yoga programme in EUSD is inherently and pervasively religious, having its roots firmly planted in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, and Western Metaphysical religious beliefs and practices.

And Broyles says "EUSD's Ashtanga yoga programme represents a serious breach of the public trust. This is frankly the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens that I have personally witnessed in my 18 years of practice as a constitutional attorney. The programme is extremely divisive and has unfortunately led to the harassment, discrimination, bullying, and segregation of children who, for good reasons, opt out of the programme."

The school district introduced yoga in its schools after it received $533,720 grant from the KP Jois Foundation for the purpose. The foundation is named in honor of Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois, who developed and popularized Ashtanga Yoga. The Jois Foundation is also paying for a related study about the benefits of yoga among children.

As such the US is home to many interpretations of yoga in schools and community.

In 2002, Tara Guber of Aspen, Colo., asked her local school district to introduce a yoga program. After parents objections on religious grounds, she created a curriculum that replaced traditional Sanskrit terms with kid-friendly names. In fact, Tara markets the curriculum to many districts as Yoga Ed.

In Oklahoma, Laurette Willis has PraiseMoves, a "Christian alternative to yoga" using exercises that strongly resemble yoga but are accompanied by scripture readings. It caters to people tired of workouts. She has also created PowerMoves, a spinoff program for public schools that replaces scripture passages with character-building quotes appearing on a video screen while children do yoga-like exercises.

Meanwhile, Broyles says in his defence "I'm not against people doing yoga. I'm against the government teaching Ashtanga Yoga."

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