The Encinitas school district in California got a grant to teach children yoga. Seems harmless, right? Wrong. A group of parents is threatening to sue to stop the practice, arguing that yoga is derived from Hinduism and thus these classes are a violation of Establishment Clause prohibitions against public schools sponsoring religion.
But soon after yoga teachers began leading students at five elementary schools in twice-weekly sessions of stretching, breathing and relaxing, four dozen parents protested to the school board, saying yoga is a system of spiritual beliefs.
School officials quickly announced that parents could choose to have their children excused from yoga class.
But attorney Dean Broyles, representing the parents, said a lawsuit may be necessary to oust yoga from the school district.
Is yoga to Hinduism what school prayer and Bible study are to Christianity, and thus not allowed? As the parents’ attorney said, “If this were a program letting children sit silently and engage in Christian prayer, the district would never allow it.”
The origins of yoga lie deep in history and likely precede even Hinduism, though its links to some form of religious practice seem inescapable. But is yoga now so far removed from its origins that it has become a secular practice? I myself, though not religious in the least, have been tempted to take it up because of friends who swear by its benefits for mental and physical well-being. The only thing that has stopped me is laziness, not any idea that I would be sucked into a religion.
Actually, this would make for an interesting legal case.