(Photo: Reuters/Jamie Fine)
A California judge ruled on Monday that yoga is not a religious tool and thus can be freely practiced in a school's fitness class despite a lawyer arguing that the case shows bias against Christianity.
"Yoga as it has developed in the last 20 years is rooted in American culture, not Indian culture," said San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer. "It is a distinctly American cultural phenomenon. A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas school district yoga advances or promotes religion."
A family in San Diego had argued that the separation of church and state was violated by the local Encinitas school district that has been including yoga exercises in its physical education program.
"(Yoga) is religious and has religious aspects," argued Dean Broyles, who represents Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their two children.
"There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in these cases, and a pro-Eastern or strange religion bias."
Previously, the lawyer had said the program is setting a "very dangerous precedent."
"No matter how starved our school districts are for money, we must not allow our public servants to 'sell' our precious children to the highest bidder to be used as religious 'guinea pigs' to fulfill the self-serving marketing purposes of a religiously motivated organization," Broyles argued.
Yoga has its roots in Eastern religions, but has been applied to various philosophies and beliefs, including Christianity.
There are Christian yoga groups that have said that the practice helps believers deepen their relationship with God. But some megachurch pastors, like Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, have called yoga "demonic" and said that "a faithful Christian can no more say they are practicing yoga for Jesus than they can say they are committing adultery for Jesus."
Reuters noted that Encinitas schools superintendent Timothy Baird said he expects the judge's ruling to be appealed. The school has argued that yoga simply provides students with a way to practice strength, flexibility and balance, and is not tied to any specific religious beliefs.
The Associated Press reported that the Encinitas school district is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its nine schools. The lessons are funded by the K.P. Jois Foundation, which promotes the Ashtanga version of yoga.
Baird has said that the yoga classes provide "amazing" health benefits, though close to 30 families have opted out of the program, which was introduced on campus in 2011. The lawsuit was not seeking monetary damages, but wanted the court to suspend the classes.
"We're not teaching religion," Baird previously said. "We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It's part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it."