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School yoga does not violate religious freedom: US court

April 04, 2015 16:15 IST

A United States court has ruled that Yoga classes in an elementary school do not endorse Hinduism or violate students' right to religious freedom and are "devoid of any religious, mystical, or spiritual trappings".

A three-member appeals San Diego court in California gave its unanimous ruling yesterday on a lawsuit filed by parents, who complained that Hindu and Buddhist doctrines were being promoted at an Encinitas district school.

According to court documents, the court had to determine whether the school district's institution of the Yoga programme as a component of its physical education curriculum "constitutes an impermissible establishment of religion in violation of the California Constitution".

Upholding a lower court ruling, the San Diego court ruled: "While the practice of yoga may be religious in some contexts, yoga classes as taught in the district are, as the trial court determined, 'devoid of any religious, mystical, or spiritual trappings.'"

Yoga, the 5,000-year-old Indian physical, mental and spiritual practice that aims to transform body and mind, is being taught at schools across the US.

The court also viewed videos of excerpts of the Yoga classes that were being taught as an alternative to the traditional gym classes.

"After a careful review of the extensive evidence presented in the trial court concerning the nature of the particular yoga programme at issue in this case, we conclude that the programme is secular in purpose, does not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and does not excessively entangle the school district in religion.

"Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court properly determined that the district's yoga programme does not violate our state constitution," justice Cynthia Aaron wrote.

Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their two children, who had brought the lawsuit, said they were disappointed with the ruling and are considering other options.

The UN adopted an India-led resolution declaring June 21 as 'International Day of Yoga' in December last year, less than three months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed the idea.

The resolution was overwhelmingly co-sponsored and adopted in the world body, recognising that "Yoga provides a holistic approach to health and well-being".

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