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Court Ruling Says Yoga is not a Religion, Can be Taught in School

By Charlie Connell | Jul 01, 2013 05:19 PM EDT

School children work on their balance during a yoga class. A California judge ruled that a San Diego family's claim that teaching yoga to school children were a violation of the separation of church and state was unfounded. (Photo : Reuters)

A San Diego family's attempts to have yoga removed from physical education classes at the local school district had their request denied by a court on Monday, according to Reuters.

In his ruling San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer said that despite the religious affiliation at yoga's roots that it's inclusion in physical education programs was not tantamount to teaching religion.

"Yoga as it has developed in the last 20 years is rooted in American culture, not Indian culture," Judge Meyer said. "It is a distinctly American cultural phenomenon. A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas school district yoga advances or promotes religion."

Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock sued the Encinitas school district because they believed that it was impossible to separate yoga from the Hindu religion citing that multiple yoga positions are based on the worship of Hindu gods, reports Reuters.

School superintendent Timothy Baird told the Associated Press that what was taught in the class was far from religion.

"We're not teaching religion," Baird said. "We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it."

Dean Broyles, the Sedlock's attorney, believes that the court's ruling represents a bias against Christianity.

"There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in these cases, and a pro-Eastern or strange religion bias," Broyles said.

In court Broyles argued that the entire purpose of yoga was to achieve spiritual enlightenment, therefore it had to be viewed as a religion, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"The final state and ultimate goal of Ashtanga yoga is samadhi," Broyles said. "By 'samadhi,' they mean absorption into the universal, or union with the divine, your honor. If that's not an explicitly religious goal, I don't know what is."

Ultimately Judge Meyer decided that the yoga that was being taught in physical education was aimed toward increasing flexibility of the body far more than it was at reaching spiritual enlightenment.  

"I suppose when you refer to worship, one is free to worship whatever, whomever one wishes and that can be virtually anything," Judge Meyer said. "I suppose some people are accused of worshiping a sports team. There are traditional religions and very untraditional religions, and I'm not sure what religion actually is." 

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