A California judge began hearing arguments this week in a civil rights case concerning whether one yoga form's religious roots should prevent it from being taught in a public school system.
A lawsuit was filed against the Encinitas Union School District by The National Center for Law and Policy on behalf of Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, whose children attend school in the district. The plaintiffs' attorneys say Ashtanga yoga, which is used as a part of the physical education curriculum in the district, is rooted in religion and is therefore being unconstitutionally taught in schools.
Candy Gunther Brown, who is an associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University, took the stand as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the case and called Ashtanga "the most religious form of yoga," according to FOX5SanDiego.com.
"This is very intentional marketing," said Brown. "We lead with physical then introduce the spiritual aspect. I can give you quotations where people admit to this."
She did say, however, that not all forms of yoga are religious.
The yoga program was introduced to the district through the K.P. Jois Foundation, an organization that granted more than $500,000 to the district to make the program possible. Although the in-school curriculum is free of religion and focuses solely on yoga positions and breathing, FOX5SanDiego.com reports, Brown told San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer she believes a conspiracy is in the works to also get students participating in spiritual practices as well.
A K.P. Jois Foundation spokesperson said she could not offer a statement to The Christian Post at this time because of the ongoing case, though a statement on the group's temporary website describes how they hope to impact students: "As a part of the school curriculum, this program uses the techniques of yoga, meditation and proper nutrition to create a positive lifestyle change."
"We're not teaching religion," EUSD Superintendent Timothy Baird previously said about the program. "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."
But in a press release earlier this year, NCLP attorney Dean Broyles called the program "a serious breach of the public trust."
"EUSD's 'model' yoga program sets a very dangerous precedent," said Broyles. "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. Religious freedom is not for sale. EUSD's improperly cozy relationship with the Jois Foundation has entangled the district in an unnecessary and avoidable religious controversy and has caused considerable damage and negative fallout in the community."
The lawsuit seeks no monetary damages, only the suspension of the controversial yoga program.