Students hold a position during a yoga class at Capri Elementary School… (Gregory Bull / Associated…)
SAN DIEGO - A San Diego Superior Court judge rejected a claim Monday 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 a health and exercise curriculum.
Dean Broyles, president and attorney for the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy, had filed a lawsuit on behalf of a couple with two children in the school system. The suit sought 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." .
But Meyer sided with the school district's explanation that it has taken out any references to Hinduism and its liturgical language, Sanskrit. Yoga, the judge said, is similar to other exercise programs like dodgeball.
Students attend two 30-minute yoga sessions each week. The yoga program has been supported by a $533,000 grant from a local studio that teaches Ashtanga yoga.
The studio is linked to the Jois Foundation, supported by hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II and his wife, Sonia, who were followers of yoga teacher Krishna Pattabhi Jois. Jois, whose devotees included Madonna and Sting, stayed briefly in Encinitas.
Encinitas Supt. Tim Baird has said that the program is worthwhile in teaching healthy exercise and eating habits. He said he hopes that teaching yoga to students will decrease instances of fighting and bullying.
"We are not instructing anyone in religious dogma," Baird said. "Yoga is very mainstream."
Yoga supporters noted that it is used at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego to help military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan recover from injuries and regain self-confidence.
But Broyles said he "strongly disagrees with the judge's ruling on the facts and the law." During the trial he insisted that yoga poses are integrally linked to religious and spiritual beliefs.
"This case is simply about whether public schools may entangle themselves with religious organizations like the Jois Foundation and use the state's coercive powers to promote a particular religious orthodoxy or religious agenda to young and impressionable schoolchildren," Broyles said after Monday's ruling.
The judge 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,” Meyer said.