Yoga Alliance Helps Defend Yoga in Schools

May 16, 2013
children practicing yoga seated on desksOn Monday, the case of Sedlock v. Baird is scheduled to go to trial. Parents of a child in Encinitas, Calif. are challenging the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) on the accusation that yoga sessions taught in school violate religious freedom. The petitioner’s expert witness, a PhD and professor of religious studies, has even written a 36-page brief expounding on the claim that yoga constitutes religious indoctrination.

Yoga Alliance® is participating in the case on behalf of the interveners,  YES! Yoga for Encinitas Students, to support the EUSD in their defense. We disagree with the petitioner’s view that yoga is inherently religious and that teaching yoga in school promotes religion, regardless of context. From our work with the yoga community over the past 13 years, we have interacted with people of many faiths, along with agnostics and atheists, as they engage in the practice and teaching of yoga. We believe that yoga can be taught in a completely secular manner and that children and adults alike can benefit from this transformative practice. We agree with the interveners that, “EUSD students should not be deprived of their world class yoga program merely because of plaintiffs’ personal bias.” You can read the intervener’s trial brief online.

To support YES! Yoga for Encinitas Students, we arranged the expert testimony of Chris Chapple, PhD and professor of Indic and comparative religion at Loyola Marymount University. He asserts that “yoga may be practiced free from religious ideology,” and describes the wide array of religions and cultures that have practiced and studied yoga. You can read Chris’ full statement that was submitted to the court.

We also provided an expert testimony from our board chairman, Brandon Hartsell, founder and CEO of Sunstone Yoga in Texas, who speaks from his experience as a studio owner as well as chairman of Yoga Alliance. He testifies that, “Yoga does not promote or espouse a Hindu ‘agenda’,” and that individuals can practice yoga without performing religious worship. Brandon cites the latest research on yoga in the U.S., which identifies the most common reasons people start practicing yoga, none of which are religious in nature. You can read Brandon’s full statement submitted to the court.

Mark Singleton, PhD and professor at St. John’s College, contributed the third expert testimony for the interveners. Mark summarized the development of modern yoga and some of its most influential teachers. He states, “Krishnamacharya presented a form of yoga that could be open and accessible to all, beyond religious sectarianism, gender, caste or nationality.” Mark refuted the claim that yoga is inherently religious, stating, “In my opinion, to claim that the practice of yoga techniques in secular, ecumenical, or religiously plural settings in the United States today is inherently religious is akin to claiming that college basketball is inherently religious because of its missionary Christian origins.” You can read Mark’s full statement submitted to the court.

In addition, Yoga Alliance President Richard Karpel wrote an opinion piece supporting the EUSD program, that will be published on the USA TODAY website on Saturday morning. “Yoga can clearly be practiced in harmony with any religion or with no religion and is diverse and flexible enough to adapt to any setting,” he wrote. We will share the piece with the community when it is published.

As this case goes to trial Monday, we hope our efforts help keep yoga in Encinitas schools, and schools everywhere. We will keep you posted on the outcome and invite you to share this article and your support with your own networks online.

In our preparation to support the defense of this case, we spoke with numerous yoga teachers and academics, and their experiences and research were of immense help to us. We wish to thank them for their kind support:

Susan Camean
Chris Chapple
Philip Goldberg
Tara Guber
Carol Horton
Michelle Kelsey Mitchell
Hari-kirtana das
Wendy Maines
Peter Rood
Mark Singleton
Lola Williamson

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