The connection may seem odd to those of us who have partaken of a 24 Hour Fitness Yoga class (never again!), but the droll series of stretches and mind-numbing meditation that has become an American pop culture phenomenon actually began as a Hindu religious practice. So, when a non-profit foundation, named for Sri K Pattahbi Jois, gave a massive $533,000 grant to teach Ashtanga (Eight Limbed) Yoga to public school children in the San Diego area, it raised a few eyebrows and one big lawsuit.
Last week, while many of us were lighting things on fire, Judge John Meyer was busy upholding the teaching of yoga in Encinitas Unified School District. Calling it a "distinctly American cultural phenomenon," Judge Meyer ruled that teaching yoga in schools did not amount to a violation of the Establishment Clause, reports Reuters.
While the Jois Foundation adheres to the teachings of its founder, and to Ashtanga yoga, the school district itself had, over time, developed its own non-religious variant, including humorously renaming the lotus position to "criss cross apple sauce." While the district had initially promoted the program with eight-limbed tree posters, and used the traditional "namaste" greeting, by 2012-2013, the program had essentially been scrubbed off all religious influence, including the aforementioned renamed pose, amongst others.
A point of emphasis for Judge Meyer seemed to be that most objections were based on ignorance of the practice of yoga. At one point, the Los Angeles Times notes, he referred to the opposition as, "almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn't what this court does."
The judge also mocked the plaintiffs' expert's testimony. The expert testified that yoga practice indoctrinates Hindu beliefs regardless of the practitioner's intent, a theory the court likened to a gateway drug to the occult theory, reports Reuters.
Judge Meyer went further, stating, "Dr. Brown has an obvious bias and can almost be called being on a mission against yoga."
In a wider context, the decision makes sense, especially since the school had taken efforts to mostly de-religify the form of yoga taught to the students. Besides, Establishment Clause jurisprudence is totally clear at this point.
Though we can open city meetings with a buffet of religious prayers, even if the prayers offend atheists, we can't have a memorial cross on federal land. As for eight-armed yoga, just rename it "apple sauce" and it definitely avoids the constitutional issues.
- No Supreme Court Review for Forsyth County Prayer Case (FindLaw's Fourth Circuit Blog)
- San Diego's Mt. Soledad Cross Ruled Unconstitutional (FindLaw's Decided)
- Conservative Groups Challenge Gay Therapy 'Quackery' Ban (FindLaw's California Case Law Blog)