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Judge rejects claim that yoga in schools is religious instruction

July 01, 2013|By Tony Perry
  • Yoga instructor Jackie Bergeron and students in an elementary school in Encinitas. A judge Monday OKd the program to continue.
Yoga instructor Jackie Bergeron and students in an elementary school in… (U-T San Diego )

A San Diego Superior Court judge Monday rejected a claim by parents in the Encinitas elementary school system that teaching yoga in the schools is an improper attempt at religious indoctrination.

The ruling by Judge John Meyer, who heard the case without a jury, means that the Encinitas Union School District can continue to teach yoga as part of its health and exercise curriculum.

Dean Broyles, attorney for the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy, had filed a lawsuit on behalf of an Encinitas family with two children in the school system seeking to have the program ousted as a violation of state law prohibiting the teaching of religion in public schools.

Broyles said having yoga in the schools "represents a serious breach of the public trust" and is a violation of state law that prohibits religious instruction in public schools.

But Meyer said that he agreed with the school district's explanation that it has taken out any references to Hinduism or Sanskrit from the program.

Yoga, the judge said, is similar to other exercise programs like dodgeball. He also said some opponents of the yoga program seem to have gotten their information from inaccurate sources on the Internet.

"It's almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn't what this court does," said Meyer.

Students receive two 30-minute yoga sessions each week. The yoga program is supported by a $533,000 grant from a local studio that teaches Ashtanga yoga.

Encinitas Union School District Supt. Tim Baird has said that the program is worthwhile in teaching healthy exercise habits and stress reduction. The district hopes that teaching yoga to students will decrease instances of bullying, he said.

"We are not instructing anyone in religious dogma," Baird said. "Yoga is very mainstream."

Yoga boosters noted that it is used at the San Diego Naval Medical Center to help military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan to recover from their injuries and regain their self-confidence.

But Broyles said he "strongly disagrees with the judge's ruling on the facts and the law."

“This case is not about whether yoga has health benefits, whether individuals may personally practice yoga or whether individuals like or enjoy yoga," he said. "This case is simply about whether public schools may ... use the state’s coercive powers to promote a particular religious orthodoxy or religious agenda to young and impressionable school children."

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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