Calif. School District Sued for Promoting Religion by Offering Yoga Classes

A California school district has been sued by a family claiming that the twice weekly yoga classes it offers are a violation of the separation between church and state.

The lawsuit against Encinitas Union School District in San Diego was filed on Wednesday, with plaintiffs Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock speaking out along with their two children, who attend the school, The Association Press reported.

Superintendent Timothy B. Baird has said that he has not yet seen the lawsuit, but maintained that the district has the right to integrate yoga into its curriculum if it chooses.

"We're not teaching religion," Baird said, revealing that for now the school will continue offering the classes. "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."

The yoga lessons are funded by the Jois Foundation, which promotes Asthanga yoga, established in the 20th century. Astanga is partly based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which stems from Hindu philosophy and beliefs.

"Through āsana we can access higher levels of yoga and, over time, bring both the body and mind to a state of stability, a state of peace," the Foundation explains. "With consistent practice of āsanas, changes become apparent on many levels, physical and mental. A deep sense of contentment and inner peace arises, and it is then that we can begin to more clearly understand the other seven limbs of Ashtanga Yoga."

The lawsuit, backed by Harvard-educated religious studies professor Candy Gunther Brown, says that the classes have roots in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and metaphysical beliefs and practices, and should not be promoted by the school as it constitutes support for religion. They also claim that dozens of parents at the school oppose the program, though only the Sedlock family are named in the suit.

AP note that many schools around the country now offer yoga programs as a way to relieve stress and promote individual growth, but those are usually after-school classes and are not part of the curriculum.

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