Monday, April 6, 2015

Does incorporating yoga in physical education violate religious freedom in California?

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You can find the article here.

Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock sued the Encinitas Union School District after they decided to incorporate yoga into physical education. Stephen and Jennifer believed that this program violated the religious-freedom provisions in California’s constitution. During their court briefs, Stephen and Jennifer said yoga was “a Hindu religious exercise or practice that is simultaneously physical and religious”.
The origins of yoga have been disputed but it is well known that it is closely related to Hinduism since it is one of Hinduism’s major components. The program was funded by the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’s foundation and the yoga poses taught were adapted from Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga is built around eight pillars, which include union with the divine. Mr. Jois’s foundation trained the yoga instructors with a mission to eliminate religious connections in the practice.
This yoga program was originally proposed in 2012 and after parents complained of religious overtones the school district removed references to the spiritual or divine and also removed the curriculum description that stated, “yoga brings out the inner spirit of the child”. The poses in the program used kid-friendly names. For example the Lotus pose was called “crisscross applesauce”.
The California Fourth District Court of Appeal said, “It is clear that while yoga may be practiced for religious reasons, it cannot be said to be inherently religious or overtly sectarian. In the absence of evidence that the District’s program advances religion, no religious coercion is present”. This case decided that religious practices could be deemed unreligious depending how they are taught. Since there are distinct ties between yoga and Hinduism, the foundation made their yoga practice in schools non religious by making sure the yoga instructors were teaching the physical exercise portion and not the religious practice involved in Ashtanga yoga. This program was deemed, “devoid of any religious, mystical or spiritual trappings”, and allowed to continue within the nine Encinitas Schools.
I agree with the courts that the yoga program should be allowed to continue because of the effort made to make the yoga practice not related to religious teachings. Since the program was created to non-religious, the religious-freedom provisions of California’s constitution could not have been violated. I believe encouraging children to try many different types of exercise is something extremely important in schools because it can lead to healthy life habits or a love for a specific sport.  Yoga has become extremely popular in the U.S. because it has a lot of mental and physical fitness related benefits and it should definitely be allowed to be taught in a schools physical education program.
Even though I think that this program does not violate the religious-freedom provisions, I do think that this issue could lead the courts down a slippery slope. Mixing religious beliefs and education has always been a highly debated issue in our country and this program is a small religious issue compared to others in our court system today. This court case decided that religious beliefs could be extracted from religious practices to allow the practices to be taught in public schools.

12 comments:

Alex L. said...

I agree that the court was correct in its ruling. While yoga may be spiritually connected to Hinduism- it is not overtly religious. If we look at many of the activities taught in gym classes in school many are rooted from religious civilizations or organizations. For example, basketball was spread in large part by the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). Nevertheless, there is a secular purpose in teaching yoga to the students as it teaches discipline and patience. Likewise, I do not believe removing any religious aspects of yoga so that it can be taught in public schools tarnishes the integrity or impact of the yoga. To reiterate -given the secular purpose, I believe the Court in California got this one right

Sam Cohen said...

I believe the court got it right as well. The schools clearly wanted to avoid making school-led yoga religious in its nature. Rather, the goal was to introduce a popular practice that can reap a lot of benefits to young kids who may need them. The goal was not to introduce Hinduism. In fact, the schools tried to stay away from making this about religion. I find not only a secular purpose in this program, but an important government interest in helping the bodies and mindsets of children grow in both strength and health. If the instructors were to use Hindu terms or clearly relate yoga to Hinduism, this would be a different story. But that isn't the case, as nothing about Hinduism was taught in these practices and the terms were even changed to secular terms.

Morgan M said...

I agree as well with the author and the court. Yoga is a practice that helps guide and connect mind and body and can be completely devoid of any religious meaning. As such Yoga is now becoming very popular in American culture as the author pointed out. This can be a good way to teach children the benefits of exercise, which would constitute as a state interest in continuing the practice. I do believe that if the classes had prayers throughout them or did make references to God or a greater being than they should not be allowed. The school clearly took the parents complains into account and changed the program to be completely secular, thus it should be allowed.

Libby W said...

I also agree with the author and commenters that the court made the correct decision. I think there is a clear secular purpose in teaching yoga in childhood physical education because it has shown to have strong mental and physical health benefits. I also think that this is constitutional because all religious aspects have been removed. The school has done everything to make this as neutral of a program as possible, and I do not think it should be restricted because of the religious history. The court made the right decision.

Nate Hunter said...

I have to disagree with everyone. Even though you a ll see it as being some harmless form of exercise, that is not the case. Upon doing further research, there can be almost no valid argument that yoga arose out of non-religion. To the hindu people in particular, yoga is an integral part of their religion, “The essence of yoga is to reach oneness with God.” I think that America has taken an important religious practice and turned it into a cool fad which we all enjoy partaking in, but that doesn't make it any less religious. The court always loves to look at the history of religions and its traditional importance, well in this case there is extreme traditional importance on the side of the hindus, and none on the side of America, so for our children to be practicing it, wether there are prayers involved or not shouldn't be allowed. Many Hindus are in fact upset that such an important part of their history and tradition is being brushed aside for the marketable and popular practice that is modern yoga. I think we need to respect their traditions and the religious importance of yoga and keep it out of our education system.

Nate Hunter said...

*for our children to be practicing it in school.

Nneoma I. said...

I think the parents had some validity in requesting that their kids not participate in yoga. Although western culture has modernized and appropriated Hinduism and its customs, it is still deeply associated with the religion. However, I don't believe that the kids participating in yoga is unconstitutional. It may be offensive to some but I believe that if they are not being forced to partake in the activity, then it is okay. The intent behind incorporating yoga is not to spread Hindu ideals to students. Although it is unfortunate that western society has stripped away the symbolic representation to the Hindu religion, that modernization is a valid argument as to why yoga in schools is constitutional.

Liz E said...

I have to agree with the court's finding in this case. I would say that while yoga can be practiced in certain religions, it is not solely a religious practice. I would argue that most people who do yoga do not do it for religious purposes, but rather for exercise, balance and wellbeing. It is certainly not the school sponsoring religion, in my opinion, and it is not coercive. That being said, if the child's parents do not want her participating in these yoga exercises based on their personal beliefs, I feel that the student should be excused from those particular exercises.

Emily C. said...

I do not see how requiring students to participate in yoga, but not allowing them the opportunity to pray voluntarily is logically consistent. By implementing yoga into physical education classes which students are required to attend, I do see this as coercive in nature. Even if the religious teachings are left out, students are still compelled to participate. This is contradictory to not allowing students to pray on their own voluntarily: if a teacher were to give students the opportunity to pray if they so choose, and were not to lead the practice whatsoever I think it is much more constitutional than mandating that students participate in an activity that has religious roots.

Nate McGuinness said...

I agree with the points Nate brought up about the proper cultural context from which yoga originated, but I find myself siding with the majority of the opinions rendered by my classmates that the court ultimately got this ruling right. While it is true that a strict interpretation of the source material surrounding yoga as a practice is undoubtable religiously tinted to say the least, in the context of this country, or California for that matter, the activity is regarding and presented in our society as being some new aged form of exercise, marketed cleverly as having some vague ties to eastern mystic roots, I would argue that very few American's/California's are approaching this activity from a religious standpoint, and I highly doubt the majority of this country primarily views it in such a narrow, albeit accurate, light.

Peter M said...

I believe the court ruled correctly and that allowing this yoga program in school is not inconsistent with the court ruling that school prayers violate the Establishment Clause. A state established school prayer has a primarily religious purpose and is not neutral between religion and non-religion. Yoga as implemented has a primarily secular purpose of physical fitness. The constitutionality of the mediation elements of yoga are also consistent with the court rulings on moments of silence. The fact that Yoga can have a religious purpose should not exclude it possibly being put in a curriculum. I do believe that while Yoga should be allowed to be in the curriculum, students can have legitimate religious objections to participating in the exercise and in that case they could be granted exemptions.

Brandon Farrell said...

I agree that the court made the correct ruling. Yoga clearly has spiritual roots and can be seen s a religious action in some cases. This case in particular, it is not. The district made alterations to the curriculum description that deems the practice of yoga to be strictly for physical fitness. This does not take anything away from the art of yoga and the skills that will be taught to learn and further the students physicality.