Encinitas stretches the First Amendment

Jul 3, 2013 by

… more than $500,000 — came from the Encinitas-based Jois Foundation whose mission it is to promote wellness through Ashtanga yoga and meditation.

Toward the end of his legal blessing of Encinitas school yoga, Judge John Meyer said one aspect of the case troubled him.

The money.

On the key constitutional question — is yoga by its nature impermissibly religious? — Meyer ruled that a hypothetical child would not perceive the current Encinitas yoga-based P.E. program as an endorsement, or subversion, of any religion.

Meyer, a beginning yoga student himself, concluded that the Encinitas school district had gone far enough to expunge yoga’s mystic trappings in its 30-minute, twice-a-week P.E. sessions.


Judge: Yoga fit for public schools

What’s being taught now, he concluded, is stretching, toning and relaxation, exercises stripped of religious meaning.

Nevertheless, Meyer said he was most disturbed that the funding for the three-year classroom experiment — more than $500,000 — came from the Encinitas-based Jois Foundation whose mission it is to promote wellness through Ashtanga yoga and meditation.

If the Jois Foundation, no matter how benevolent and secular its intentions, were in charge, Meyer likely would have ruled against school yoga.

Following protests from Christian parents last fall, the district saw the gathering PR (and legal) storm and scrambled to put a bolder stamp on the fledgling program.

Sanskrit words and mystic posters were scrubbed out. The written curriculum was as secular-sounding as jumping jacks.

During trial, the plaintiffs focused on the program’s sketchy early days. The district’s attorneys highlighted the refined 2.0 version adopted by all nine schools in January.

It took time to iron out wrinkles, but the Encinitas district has demonstrated to one judge’s satisfaction that it’s possible to take private money and fashion a yoga program that can be defended in court.

Though they lost this round, the Christian plaintiffs have performed a valuable service in a famously flexible community inclined to embrace yoga. They’ve forced the Encinitas district to learn what it takes to defend yoga from legal challenge.

No doubt dozens of dissident families will continue to believe that yoga, no matter how customized, is as spiritually evocative as the Lord’s Prayer and has no place in American P.E.

But as the cultural wedge issue heads toward appeal, this much seems clear:

The longer the arm’s length from private groups like the Jois Foundation, the more likely that higher courts will be willing to unyoke yoga from its ancient religious roots.

What seemed a stretch now appears to be well within the Constitution’s range of motion.

via Encinitas stretches the First Amendment | UTSanDiego.com.

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