Attorneys squared before a panel of judges Wednesday in an appeals case concerning an Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) yoga program and whether or not it violates First Amendment rights by being too religious.
Attorney Dean Broyles is representing parents who want to shut down the EUSD Ashtanga yoga program because they claim it has religious roots. Meanwhile, lawyers representing the school district, including David Peck, argue that the program is only meant to promote health and wellness, with no religious agenda.
Broyles filed a lawsuit on behalf of several parents back in 2012 against the EUSD, saying their yoga program violated the separation of church and state. The following year, a judge ruled in favor of the district, saying the program was not religious and could continue to be taught to students.
Broyles then appealed that decision, landing him and the district attorneys back in court in San Diego Wednesday.
“Bowing to the Hindu Sun God, putting your hands in a praying position and lifting your hands to the Hindu Sun God is a religious ritual practice,” Broyles argued outside the courthouse, adding that the yoga program continues to be “pervasively religious.”
“The program is leading the kids through religious rituals that are classic worship of the Hindu Sun God,“ he added.
Broyles said that if the district allows this yoga program to continue, they will then have to let other forms of religious teachings into schools because, in his words, “The school should not be in the business of picking religious winners and losers.”
Meanwhile, Peck – who represents the EUSD on behalf of Yes! Yoga for Encinitas Schools – told NBC 7 the program has always been and continues to be devoid of any religious overtones.
“As yoga is practiced in the classroom at EUSD, it‘s simply not religious. It’s stretching – it’s breathing. It’s something all students can participate in unlike kickball where kids get picked last and other sports, this is a highly beneficial exercise routine that’s been adopted by the district for its health and wellness program,” Peck explained outside the courtroom.
“It’s not a violation of the First Amendment because it’s not a religious practice. There are no religious teachings,” he added. “Nothing has been transmitted by the teachers of a religious nature and certainly the students are not perceiving anything of a religious nature.”
The Fourth District Court of Appeal is expected make a ruling on the yoga case by June 9. Honorable justices Judith McConnell, Richard Huffman and Cynthia Aaron will decide the appeal.