Separation of Yoga and State

Reilly Van Dyke, Staff Writer

Getty Images
Getty Images

Weekly yoga classes are being challenged at a school district in the beach city of Encinitas, California. Complaints were filed by a family, with attorney Dean Broyles now representing them, claiming that the Buddhist aspects of yoga are interfering with the separation of church and state.

After refusing to take into account the complaints of Jennifer and Stephen Sedlock, the unsettled parents decided to take legal action. Despite the concerns of the Sedlocks and dozens of other parents who also feel the yoga program is inappropriate, the school district has a different opinion.

According to The Huffington Post, school district superintendent Timothy B. Baird is doing what he can to defend the school district’s decision to integrate weekly yoga classes into the curriculum.

“We’re not teaching religion. We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It’s part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it,” said Baird.

Parents and teachers of the school district have also noticed that after incorporating the weekly yoga classes into students’ schedules, they feel students have become calmer and have been using the breathing practices that they’ve learned in their classes to release stress before taking tests in school.

Since having filed the lawsuit, the Sedlocks are not asking for monetary benefit but would like the court to intervene and suspend the program altogether. So while the school district is still continuing to offer the yoga classes, the parents who aren’t comfortable with their children participating have asked that their children opt out of the activity. These students are now missing the 60 of the 100 minutes of physical activity that is required by the state, and usually spend their time reading instead. Furthermore, students whose parents have opted them out of the weekly yoga classes are facing bullying and harassment by their peers.

Here at SUNY Oneonta, free yoga classes are offered to the student body. When asked what she thinks of the lawsuit against the California school district, SUNY Oneonta junior Jessia Clark said, “I feel yoga is more of an exercise technique than a religious ritual. I agree with both the school and the parents—the school has the right to implement it, and the parents have the right to opt out. I also feel that the school needs to implement another type of physical activity in placement of the yoga.”

Yinelly Estevez, a sophomore at Oneonta, said, “I think how we use it here, today, it’s more about the exercise. People don’t think of the religious aspect of it anymore. They could leave out saying ‘Namaste’ at the end, and things like that. That’s the only thing I know of that could be considered religious as we practice yoga today that I’m aware of.”

Yoga will continue to be taught at this school district, as well as at many other school districts on the east coast in order to reduce stress and teach life skills to students. The yoga program that is being challenged in Encinitas, California is being supported by the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes Asthanga yoga and is providing the school district with a three-year $533,000 grant.

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