When I heard about the religious right complaint over a public school teaching yoga to students it kind of made me yawn because it is so typical. The religious right want their brand of religion to be promoted in public schools but complain about anything that they think isn’t their brand of religion. Some liberal religious people I know don’t think this hypocrisy happens so this post is for them as further proof.
Here is the basic story:
Public school yoga instructor Katie Campbell proudly looks out at 23 first graders as they contain their squirming in a kid-friendly version of the lotus position.
In a voice barely above a whisper, she says into her microphone: “Why look at everyone showing me they’re ready for yoga. A-plus, plus, plus!”
Then the lesson begins with deep breathing and stretches common to many yoga classes. But there is no chanting of “om,” no words spoken in the Indian language of Sanskrit nor talk of “mindfulness” or clasping hands in the prayer position.
Campbell avoids those potential pitfalls for the Encinitas Union School District, which is facing the threat of a lawsuit as it launches what is believed to be the country’s most comprehensive yoga program for a public school system.
Parents opposed to the program say the classes will indoctrinate their children in Eastern religion and are not just for exercise.
Yes Yoga is known to be part of Hinduism but if only doing it was indocrination then what does being forced to say “Under God” in the pledge do to a kid?
Katherine Stewart over at Religion Dispatches has more details about the issue and the group behind the complaints:
Eady works at a Christian organization called Truthxchange, whose chief mission is to “respond to the rising tide of neopaganism.” Her lawyer’s organization, NCPL, is an affiliate of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly the Alliance Defense Fund), a conservative Christian legal advocacy group that has litigated on behalf of evangelical activity in schools and the broader public square. As might be imagined, the ADF takes a dim view of “neopaganism,” whatever that means to them.
Another example is “Character Education.” Public schools have taken it upon themselves to address issues of ethics and character, but in a world of budget cuts, they often turn to outside providers for the programs. Many of those providers are religious groups whose idea of “character development” is not easily distinguishable from proselytizing. “The Power Team,” “The Strength Team,” “Team Impact,” and thousands of similar faith-based groups send speakers, theater troupes, and even rock bands into public schools ostensibly to teach lessons about drunk driving, bullying, and other valuable topics. But their presentations—which often culminate with invitations to proselytizing events at evangelical churches—soon make clear that their main aim is to leave with a collection of young religious converts.
And when parents complain? The ADF accuses ACLU-backed school districts that seek to limit religious “character education” of waging a “war on Christianity.”
Is Yoga religious? Based on the info in the articles noted above I think an argument can be made teaching the kids Yoga is almost like leading the kids in prayer. You can teach the stretching as excerise without the Yoga terminology. The fact that the school develops the program and teaches it themselves doesn’t protect it from being challenged.
What is equally important is the Stewart essay pointing out the other religious based programs being taught in the public schools now. Alliance Defending Freedom and other religious right groups have no room to complain about the programs they think shouldn’t be allowed in schools.
The complaints by groups like the ADF show their great hypocrisy.
Personally I think all programs created or paid for by religious groups should not be allowed in public schools.
*Update* – July 1, 2013
The case against the Yoga class was thrown out San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer. The judge wasn’t kind to the plaintiffs:
The judge said that the opponents of the yoga class were relying on information culled from the Internet and other unreliable sources.
“It’s almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn’t what this court does,” Meyer said.
The plaintiff’s attorney Dean Broyles said he might appeal the decision. As Americans United notes:
The classes, which meet twice a week for 30 minutes, are voluntary. Broyles claimed that some children who choose not to go are harassed. If that’s true, the school must immediately put a stop to that.
School officials must also continue to take pains to keep anything smacking of theology out of the program. Not all Eastern programs that pose as meditation/relaxation plans are appropriate for public schools. For example, Americans United has protested the use of Transcendental Meditation in public schools, asserting that these programs are too tied to religion.
In some cases, students were taught to chant the names of Hindu gods and took part in religiously tinged initiation ceremonies. In addition, some TM followers made hyperbolic claims, asserting that practitioners could learn to fly, become invisible and be in two places at once.
There is a world of difference between a program like TM, which is firmly anchored in a supernatural, metaphysical worldview, and a class that has the secular aim of promoting good health and relaxation.