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Judge: Yoga-is-religion case was like trial by Wikipedia

Published: Tuesday, July 2 2013 5:10 p.m. MDT

Jeremy Richardson participates in a yoga class at the Hare Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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An Associated Press story cleverly made the point: "A California judge has ruled that it's a real stretch to suggest yoga is always religious."

San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer on Monday sided with the argument of the school officials that while yoga can be religious, it is taught in the Encinitas Union School District as simply a way to promote strength, flexibility and balance.

Meyer then blasted the rationale of the parents suing the San Diego County School District as personal opinion based on Internet searches. The plaintiffs also relied on the testimony of a religious studies professor who found the course pervasively religious.

"It's almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn't what this court does," said Meyer, who took nearly two hours to explain a decision that explored yoga's Indian roots and philosophy.

The case has attracted national attention for months, primarily because of the irony of Christians suing over religion being taught in public schools. Typically, devout Christians decry that the courts have removed prayer and religion from schools.

At issue was a requirement that students attend two 30-minute yoga sessions each week. The yoga program has been supported by a $533,000 grant from a local studio that teaches Ashtanga yoga. Students who didn't want to participate were offered alternatives to meet the district's health and wellness requirement.

But attorney Dean Broyles argued on behalf of the parents of two children in the district that the class was inherently religious, violated the constitutional separation of church and state and breached the public's trust despite attempts by the district to strip the course of any religious dogma. For instance, the lotus position was renamed the "crisscross applesauce" pose.

“The final state and ultimate goal of Ashtanga yoga is samadhi," Broyles said, according to a transcript of the trial quoted by Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian. "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.”

Broyles told the AP that he would likely appeal.

"It was the judge's job to call balls and strikes and determine the facts," Broyles said. "I think he got some of the facts wrong."

The Huffington Post speculated the San Diego case won't settle the question of whether yoga is considered a religious practice or not.

"Nonetheless, recent Pew Research Center surveys may shed some light on American views of yoga," the Huffington Post reported. "For example, in an extensive poll on religiously unaffiliated Americans that was released last fall, Pew asked how the group — it included but was not limited to atheists and agnostics — viewed yoga. About 28 percent said yoga was a spiritual practice. The number was slightly higher than the 23 percent of the broader public that said the same."

mbrown@deseretnews.com

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