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Do School Yoga Classes Pose a Legal Problem?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on January 10, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Is a school yoga class teaching healthy behavior or does it promote religion? Some parents at Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School in Encinitas, California, are afraid it's the latter and they want it out.

Students participate in yoga classes under what the school calls physical education. But one mother, Mary Eady, decided to keep her son out of it after visiting one of the classes.

She's worried yoga's Hindu roots can't be untangled from its practice in her son's class. Her cause for concern comes from the curriculum.

The school's yoga program is made possible by a grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, which promotes Ashtanga yoga, reports NPR. It's the founder's beliefs that give Eady pause.

She claims the curriculum states that yoga will change the way children view the world and make life decisions. To her, that sounds like religious doctrine.

Eady isn't alone in her beliefs. A group of parents at the school have signed a petition asking for the class to be optional and moved to before or after the school day, according to San Diego's KSWB-TV.

But those parents are a minority in the community, known for its ubiquitous yoga studios. Their concerns about yoga imparting religious beliefs aren't shared by many others.

It doesn't help their argument that the curriculum doesn't mention God, religion, or Hinduism. That will make it more difficult to prove that the yoga class involves religion.

Promoting religion in public schools violates the First Amendment, but moments that could be spiritual, like a moment of silence in the morning, are generally considered to be OK. To make their claim, parents will first have to prove that the school's yoga practice is religious.

If that is true, then forcing students to participate in a religious practice would likely violate the separation of church and state.

The concerned parents say may file a lawsuit, in which case they'll have to convince a judge that the yoga curriculum poses a problem. Supporters of in-school yoga say that would be a real stretch.

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