A California judge has ruled that it's a real stretch to suggest yoga is always religious.
Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer rejected the pleas of parents from a San Diego County school district where yoga is taught on nine campuses who said the classes are inherently religious and violate the constitutional principle of separating church and state.
Meyer sided instead in the Monday ruling with administrators from the Encinitas Union School District who argued the practice while often religious is taught in a secular way to promote strength, flexibility and balance.
The judge said parents who objected relied on personal opinions, some culled from Internet searches. "It's almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn't what this court does," said Meyer, who took nearly two hours to explain a decision that explored yoga's Indian roots and philosophy.
The judge emphasized that the school district stripped classes of all cultural references, including the Sanskrit language. The lotus position was renamed the "crisscross applesauce" pose.
The 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 a $533,720, three-year grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Encinitas that promotes Ashtanga yoga.
The twice-weekly, 30-minute classes are offered along with more traditional physical education to the district's 5,600 students.
About 30 families have opted out of the classes, which were introduced in 2011 at one campus and later expanded to others, Superintendent Timothy Baird said. The superintendent hailed the ruling, calling yoga "21st century P.E." that yielded "amazing" health benefits.
The judge said the Jois Foundation's involvement was troubling, but rejected parents' arguments that it amounted to a stealth attempt to guide students to Eastern religion. The foundation insists that the classes are not religious.
[TBC: It is instructive that the judge's judgment seems to be based on little more than his opinion. Hindu teacher Yogi Baba Prem has written,
"Modern day scholars from India frequently present the attitude of 'let them have yoga, I am interested in protecting Hinduism.' I have heard this sentiment on numerous occasions, but the reality is that yoga is a part of Hinduism. Allowing one part to be taken from Hinduism opens a door for the distortion of the teachings. We must remember that the roots to modern day yoga comes from Vedic Yoga. The same Vedic Yoga that is the authority of Hinduism. Allowing one branch to be severed from the tree of knowledge will not necessarily kill that tree, but it can produce strain and have an unbalancing effect upon the tree.
"Hinduism should reclaim its full heritage and not allow other groups to rename its sacred teachings under their banner, especially when they have no history of those teaching within their own system. If they wish to ‘borrow’ and say this comes from our brothers and sisters in Hinduism, then that is another thing. But frequently groups attempt to privatize the information and present themselves as the original authority. Hinduism should guard against its sacred traditions becoming distorted and taken away.”
Yoga is Hinduisim, regardless of renaming the positions.]