SAN DIEGO (AP) — A judge is expected to issue a ruling Monday on whether yoga is a religious practice that shouldn't be allowed to be taught in public schools.
An attorney representing a family bent out of shape over the public school program in the beach city of Encinitas filed a lawsuit in February to stop the district-wide classes. In the lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court, attorney Dean Broyles argued that the twice weekly, 30-minute classes are inherently religious, in violation of the separation between church and state.
Judge John S. Meyer is expected to issue his ruling in the case that went to trial.
The Encinitas Union School District is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its schools. The lessons are funded by a $533,000, three-year grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes Asthanga yoga.
The plaintiffs are Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their children, who are students in the district.
Superintendent Timothy B. Baird said since the district started the classes at its nine schools in January, teachers and parents have noticed students are calmer, using the breathing practices to release stress before tests.
"We're not teaching religion," he told The Associated Press. "We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it."
Broyles said his clients are not seeking monetary damages but are asking the court to intervene and suspend the program.
The lawsuit notes Harvard-educated religious studies professor Candy Gunther Brown found the district's program is pervasively religious, having its roots in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and metaphysical beliefs and practices.
Children who have opted out of the program have been harassed and bullied, the plaintiffs say.
Yoga is now taught at public schools from the rural mountains of West Virginia to the bustling streets of Brooklyn as a way to ease stress in today's pressure-packed world where even kindergartners say they feel tense about keeping up with their busy schedules. But most classes are part of an after-school program, or are offered only at a few schools or by some teachers in a district.
The Jois Foundation says it believes the program will become a national model to help schools teach students life skills.