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Lawsuit filed to remove yoga from California schools

March 09, 2013 16:42 IST

A civil lawsuit has been filed against a school district in California seeking to suspend a controversial yoga programme which parents feel ‘unlawfully’ promote religious beliefs.

Not seeking any monetary compensation, the lawsuit filed by NationalCenter for Law and Policy, on behalf of aggrieved parents, urged the San Diego superior court to immediately suspend ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ programme of the EncinitasUnionSchool District and restore traditional physical education.

Writing in support of the lawsuit, Harvard educated religious studies Professor Candy Gunther Brown said that the Ashtanga yoga programme is inherently and pervasively religious, having its roots firmly planted in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, and Western Metaphysical religious beliefs and practices.

As such, the programme violates California constitutional provisions prohibiting government religious preference and religious discrimination, alleged the lawsuit.

"The EUSD's Ashtanga yoga programme represents a serious breach of the public trust," attorney Dean Broyles alleged. "This is frankly the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens that I have personally witnessed in my 18 years of practice as a constitutional attorney.

"The programme is extremely divisive and has unfortunately led to the harassment, discrimination, bullying, and segregation of children who, for good reasons, opt out of the programme," Broyles alleged.

The school district introduced yoga in its schools after it received a $533,720 grant from the KP Jois Foundation for the purpose. The programme sparked controversy among parents who feel Ashtanga yoga infringes on their religious beliefs.

The EUSD Superintendent Dr Timothy Baird has argued the yoga programme is far from unconstitutional. "To be unconstitutional, we would have to be promoting religion and religious instruction in our programme. That just isn't happening," Baird said.

Instead, she argued that through yoga the school system is promoting physical activity and overall wellness. The School District has selected the instructors and have designed the curriculum.

"There is no religion in this curriculum," Baird said. Jois Foundation's CEO, Eugene Ruffin, denied the allegation by parents, saying, “There's a ton of positives of yoga. We know it works. But we're not pushing a particular brand of yoga," he said.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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