Foundation Files Amicus Brief in California Establishment Clause Case

The Foundation filed an amicus brief in support of intervenor parents under the name YES! Yoga for Encinitas Students who favor inclusion of a yoga option in the curriculum of elementary schools in their local school district.

In this case, the plaintiffs, parents of elementary school children, sued the local school superintendent and trustees of the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD), in San Diego County, California. They allege that yoga taught in the local elementary schools as part of the physical education program is closely tied to the Hindu religion, and thus constitutes an impermissible establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A foundation that has ties to a religious variety of yoga made a half-million dollar grant to the school district to implement an experimental yoga-based physical education curriculum. After a pilot program had been tried in one school the district made substantial changes to the yoga exercises being taught in part in response to parents comments and all references to Hindu religion were removed from the curriculum in place in the EUSD schools and the names of the various yoga positions have been given common English names.

Plaintiffs allege that notwithstanding these changes yoga is inherently religious and that there is no secular variety appropriate for public schools. Their objection is grounded in their belief that yoga and its practices involve the worship of idols in violation of the Ten Commandments and that Christian children cannot practice yoga without jeopardizing their core religious beliefs. They claim that the school district is attempting to indoctrinate naive elementary school children in a deviant religion. Ironically, a significant percentage of adults in the Encinitas community use yoga as a part of their health and fitness regime.

The central issue in the case is whether the introduction of an optional yoga exercise class from which references to the Hindu religion have been removed, amounts to an entanglement of the state with religion under the leading case Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971).

In our amicus brief we argue that, while yoga may have religious roots, as practiced in the United States it has become a secular activity. Further, we point out, many sports including many of the Olympic track and field sports, wrestling, judo, jiujitsu, karate, and lacrosse have religious origins, but have no religious overtones as performed in schools and professionally. We show that a deconstruction of Malnak v. Yogi, 592 F.2d 197 (3d Cir. 1979), the case on which the plaintiffs primarily rely, shows the case supports the position of the school district and YES! for Yoga.

To view the Foundations brief, please click here.