ENCINITAS — The battle over whether Encinitas Union School District’s yoga program promotes religion in public schools took another step recently as attorneys suing the district announced they had filed their final appeal brief, setting the stage for the state appeals court to take up the matter.
The National Center for Law and Policy announced the filings Oct. 24.
The group is appealing Superior Court Judge John Meyer’s ruling that the school district’s yoga program did not violate the “establishment clause” of the Constitution because it did not promote any religious doctrine.
The conservative law group argues that Meyer’s ruling contradicted his own findings that yoga has Hindu roots and the most recent version of the school district’s curriculum at the time included practices that were identical to a subset of yoga that has overt religious overtones.
“This conclusion does not follow from the … facts listed above,” the brief reads. “Rather, exactly the opposite conclusion follows: that since yoga and Ashtanga yoga are religious, having their roots in Hinduism, and since yoga or Ashtanga yoga is the cornerstone of EUSD’s program even after EUSD purportedly stripped it of religion, EUSD’s program is religious.”
The school district has argued that the yoga it teaches students has been stripped of its religious vestiges and is a vital part of the district’s health and wellness program. It has expanded the yoga program significantly in size after receiving a $1.3 million grant from the Sonima Foundation – previously known as the Jois Foundation — by increasing the number of yoga instructors from 10 to 18.
Dean Broyles, an attorney with the National Center, said the case will have implications across the country and mirrors a case currently before the Supreme Court in India, where justices there are hearing arguments in an appeal of a lower court’s ruling that teaching yoga in public classrooms discriminated against Christian and Muslim minorities.
“Public schools may certainly objectively teach about religion because religion is historically and culturally important. And students are free to express their personal religious beliefs and practices at school,” Broyles said. “But the state itself is not constitutionally permitted to endorse or promote religion or religious practices at school sponsored events, as is now occurring in EUSD P.E. classrooms.”