Yoga has no religious links: US court

Wednesday 08th April 2015 06:26 EDT

Washington: Attempts by yoga opponents in California to twist the ancient Indian practice to present it as religious indoctrination has again been rejected by a US court. A three-judge panel of the 4th district court of appeal upheld a decision by the San Diego superior court that the yoga programme in the Encinitas School District is “devoid of any religious, mystical or spiritual trappings.”

“We conclude that the programme is secular... (and) does not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and does not excessively entangle the school district in religion,” the appeals court said. Earlier in 2013, a lower court judge in California has already ruled that the practice of yoga that originated in India is now a “distinctly American cultural phenomenon,” while dismissing complaints from some parents that teaching it to school children amounted to “an unconstitutional promotion of Eastern religions.”

Parents of some children had sued to stop the school district from teaching yoga, maintaining it is a religious practice that surreptitiously promoted Hinduism and Buddhism. Funded with $533,000 from the K Pattabhi Jois Foundation, which is backed by Jois Acolytes, hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II and his wife Sonia, the school had introduced a three-year pilot yoga programme in 2011, with twice-a week classes in addition to regular physical education.

While some 30 families pulled their children out of the classes, saying teaching of yoga in schools blurred the line between church and state and “represents a serious breach of the public trust,” many parents backed the programme, which the school said was also aimed at curbing aggressive behaviour and bullying. The school later told the court that it had removed all religious elements, including the use of “namaste,” and substituting the Sanskrit name of asanas with English ones.

The chastisement did not stop the plaintiffs from going to the appeals court, which again snubbed them and upheld the ruling of the district court, which heard and saw weeks of testimony from yoga practitioners and opponents, including live demonstration in courtroom of poses taught to children.

Attorney Dean Broyles, who represented the parents in the lawsuit, said he and his clients “are disappointed with the decision and we are carefully considering our options,” -a hint that the matter could even head to the supreme court.

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