A San Diego judge has ruled in favor of yoga classes in public elementary schools, rejecting an argument from some parents that the practice was an attempt at religious mind control.
Judge John S. Meyer spoke from the bench for nearly two hours Monday as he presented his ruling on the yoga program being taught to elementary school children in the Encinitas Unified School District.
At issue: Are yoga poses religious in nature, and can schools offer yoga instruction as part of its physical education program without promoting the religion or spirituality behind the practice?
Meyer heard testimony in May regarding Ashtanga yoga and a curriculum established within EUSD where students practice yoga as P.E.
The district established its yoga program with a $500,000 grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation.
EUSD administrators hoped yoga would help the elementary school students focus on studies, keep them calm and possibly even curb bullying.
However, some parents heard the chanting, saw the Sanskrit and objected.
After complaining to the district, opponents sued claiming the classes are being used to indoctrinate children and "spread the gospel" of Ashtanga yoga. The plaintiffs wanted yoga classes suspended immediately.
Attorney Dean Broyles argued Ashtanga yoga is inherently religious and that teaching the poses is therefore a violation of the separation of church and state.
In his ruling Monday, Superior Court Judge Meyer said P.E. has traditionally involved physical activity and breath control — whether ithrough jumping jacks, dodgeball, kickball or running — as well as character teachings like perseverance, determination and sportsmanship.
"This physical education, health and wellness class is no different except the physical aspect kickball or something else is EUSD yoga which involves a particular stretching and breathing routine different from traditional physical education."
Judge Meyer called the influence of the foundation over the EUSD curriculum "troublesome" but ruled that the district was not teaching the children any religious component during the yoga instruction.
Broyles said the ruling was confusing. “For the judge to say yoga is religious… but then to say this EUSD yoga is not religious, I’m not sure how he arrives at that point,” he said.
The idea the yoga program was funded by the Jois Foundation as a mind-control technique is “preposterous,” according to the foundation's Executive Director Eugene Ruffin. Watch Video: Jois Foundation Reaction to Verdict
The grant was for the district to create a health and wellness curriculum and yoga is a cost-effective way to attain happy, healthy kids Ruffin said.
“It would be a shame if these children could not have the same kinds of choice as it relates to these century-old techniques as you and I have as adults," he said. “It would be pitiful.”
Superintendent Timothy Baird, Ed.D., said formal studies are being conducted about the results of the program.
He did offer results from one school that taught yoga to students before the program was expanded to all nine of the district's schools. Teachers reported an increase in API for the school as well as better schoolyard behavior according to Baird.
The plaintiffs' attorney cited studies that shows prayer in school helps calm students down and focuses them to perform better.
"Just because a religious practice is beneficial doesn't mean it should be the standard that's taught in schools," Broyles said. Watch Video: Plaintiff's Attorney Reacts to Verdict
The Encinitas School District will move forward to put the program in place for next year.
Baird said he would tell the plaintiffs, “Come see a class, come observe what your students are doing. If you do, I think you will agree with us that this is just exercise.”