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Appeals court rules yoga can continue in Encinitas schools

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SAN DIEGO — The Fourth District Court of Appeal today upheld a San Diego judge’s ruling that a yoga program offered to elementary school students in Encinitas is secular in nature, and does not infringe upon religious rights.

In July 2013, San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer sided with the Encinitas Union School District in a lawsuit filed by parents of two students, who contended that the yoga instruction included religious elements and that children opted out by their parents lost state-mandated physical education time.

The Ashtanga yoga program, started in the district three years ago, is a fast-paced form that features progressively more demanding poses with synchronized breathing. The judge, in his decision, found that a modified version of Ashtanga yoga was secular.

The plaintiffs, Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, subsequently appealed.

“After a careful review of the extensive evidence presented in the trial court concerning the nature of the particular yoga program at issue in this case, we conclude that the program 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,” Justice Cynthia Aaron wrote.

“Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court properly determined that the district’s yoga program does not violate our state constitution,” the justice wrote, in an opinion in which Justices Judith McConnell and Richard
Huffman concurred.

The justices found that the lower court ruling was appropriate because, while yoga might be religious in some contexts, classes in the district did not have any “religious, mystical or spiritual trappings.”

Dean Robert Broyles, president of the National Center for Law & Policy in Escondido, said he and his clients haven’t decided whether to continue up the appellate ladder.

“No other court in the past 50 years has allowed public school officials to lead children in formal religious rituals like the Hindu liturgy of praying to, bowing to, and worshipping the sun god,” Broyles said. “We are disappointed with the decision and are carefully considering our options.”

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