Parents in the Encinitas School District threatened that the school might be sued over yoga classes, but now they’re putting that threat into action.
At least, one set of parents is doing that. Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock have sued the district over the yoga classes it offers to elementary students as part of physical education. They claim the classes violate the right to religious freedom.
But the school district doesn’t agree with the Sedlock’s assessment. It claims the yoga classes never included religion to begin with; they’re just exercise. Will that be enough in court?
Public schools aren’t allowed to promote religion or require students to engage in religious practice. That means no prayer in school or mandatory courses on God or religion.
But a daily moment of silence, without the mention of God, is an acceptable compromise. Courts have also determined that the word “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance isn’t unconstitutional so long as students aren’t required to say it.
The problem is compelling students to participate in various religious practices. That’s a line public schools aren’t permitted to cross.
The school is arguing that its yoga class isn’t related to Hindu religious practice. Classes don’t use Sanskrit words or cultural connections, reports San Diego KNSD-TV.
School officials classify the activity as stretching, moving, and breathing; not as religion. In addition, the yoga classes are optional; students can choose not to participate.
Those factors will certainly help in a court battle. It’s harder to prove infringement on religious freedom if students have a choice in participating and the activity doesn’t mention God or religion by name.
But the Sedlocks still don’t like it. They’re asking the school to suspend yoga class indefinitely in favor of “traditional physical education.”
Will their argument that yoga is “inherently and pervasively religious” survive in court? Only time will tell.
- Checklist: Freedom of Religion and the Public School System (FindLaw)
- First Amendment - Religion and Expression (FindLaw)
- Religion in Schools: 2nd Circuit Bans After-Hours Use of School (FindLaw’s U.S. Second Circuit Blog)