An Escondido lawyer trying to force the Encinitas Union School District to end its school yoga program because it has religious roots, squared off in a state appeals court Wednesday against district lawyers who say the program only promotes physical exercise — not mystical or spiritual enlightenment.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal is expected to rule in the case by June 9, but in court Wednesday the panel of judges seemed skeptical that the program was somehow still tainted by religion.
Yoga has been a health and wellness activity in the Encinitas school district since 2012, when the Encinitas-based Sonima Foundation gave the district $2 million to add yoga to all physical education classes.
That same year, attorney Dean Broyles — who runs the National Center for Law & Policy — sued the district on behalf of several parents, saying the program violated the separation of church and state by endorsing Hindu religious beliefs promoted in Ashtanga yoga.
In 2013, a lower court sided with the district, finding that school program had been stripped of any religious overtones and could therefore remain. Broyles and his clients appealed.
In a hearing Wednesday, judges seemed impatient with Broyles’ contention that the yoga program had spiritual underpinnings.
“It’s void of religious, mystical or spiritual trappings,” Judge Cynthia Aaron said. The judges interrupted Broyles several times during his nearly 30-minute oral argument to the court.
Broyles described the panel later as a “hot bench” that peppered him with lots of tough but “legitimate” questions.
“They were very animated,” Broyles observed.
In the lower court ruling, San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer wrote that while yoga itself is religious, the school district’s version of it is not.
Broyles sued the district on behalf of the parents of two El Camino Creek students who felt the yoga program violated the separation of church and state.
The suit spawned a backlash from other district parents who felt the program was healthy and harmless.
“Yoga is a confusing topic for America to understand because of its religiosity,” he said.
Broyles noted Wednesday that he wasn’t trying to win popularity votes with the lawsuit.
“It’s like suing Santa Claus,” he said.
He argued in the court that the sequence of yoga positions performed in the program at El Camino Creek is a “religious sequence” intended to impart deeper meaning.
He said the Encinitas school district is now teaching formal religious rituals, the Ashtanga yoga Surya Namaskara, which is a “prayer” to the Hindu sun god, Surya. Continue reading >>