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Yoga in Schools: The Encinitas Case

Last Updated: April 6, 2015

In 2011, the Encinitas School District in California implemented an optional yoga program as an alternative to a traditional physical education course. Two parents sued the school district to stop the program in the case Sedlock v. Baird, contending that yoga is religious. In July 2013, the case’s presiding judge sided with the school district and ruled the program was not religious, which was appealed. Parents formed the organization YES! Yoga for Encinitas Students and, alongside Yoga Alliance, joined the case to actively support the District’s program.

In October 2014, Yoga Alliance submitted an amicus curiae brief to the presiding judge and compiled expert testimonies from Yoga Alliance board of directors chair Brandon Hartsell and Doshi professor of Indic and comparative theology Christopher Chapple, PhD to outline how yoga is not inherently religious and that it can be practiced in an entirely secular manner. 

On March 11, 2015, the case was argued before a three-judge panel in California's 4th District Court of Appeal. During the hearing, most of the judges' questions were directed to the plaintiffs' attorney. The judges seemed skeptical of plaintiffs' argument that the school district's yoga program endorsed Hindu religious beliefs. The court of appeals is expected to issue a ruling by June 9, 2015.

On April 3, 2015, the court of appeal determined the school district's yoga program to be "devoid of any religious, mystical or spiritual trappings," affirming the trial court ruling. Judges ruled unanimously in favor of the district in this decision, and identified Hartsell's testimony as just one piece of "abundant evidence that contemporary yoga is commonly practiced in the United States for reasons that are entirely distinct from religious ideology." The plaintiffs did not seek further review by the California Supreme Court of the Court of Appeal’s ruling by the May 13, 2015 deadline, making the victory final. Read the full appellate opinion.

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