When legal battles over religion in public schools erupt, they typically involve non-Christians alleging Christian proselytizing on the public's dime.
The tables were turned this week in the beach city of Encinitas, Calif., where a group of parents is upset over a public school yoga program, the Associated Press reported.
The school district knew the twice weekly, 30-minute classes were stressing out some parents, but superintendent Timothy Baird said he was disappointed the complaint was filed Wednesday in San Diego Superior Court.
“We thought we had worked well with the concerned parents and had resolved their concerns,” he said, according to the Christian News Network.
The plaintiffs are Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their children, who are students in the Encinitas Union School District.
"EUSD's Ashtanga yoga program represents a serious breach of the public trust," their attorney Dean Broyles said in a statement. "Compliance with the clear requirements of law is not optional or discretionary. This is frankly the clearest case of the state trampling on the religious freedom rights of citizens that I have personally witnessed in my 18 years of practice as a constitutional attorney."
The Los Angeles Times quoted Baird as saying the parents of 30 children have opted not to have their children participate.
Broyles said the ability for parents to opt out is not sufficient. The program "is extremely divisive and has unfortunately led to the harassment, discrimination, bullying and segregation of children who, for good reason, opt out," his statement said.
His clients claim the Ashtanga yoga is religious in nature, "having its roots firmly planted in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and western metaphysical religious beliefs and practices."
Baird said there is nothing religious about the program, which is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers in a public school. "We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it," he said, according to Education Week. "It's part of our overall wellness program," which a majority of the parents and students support.
The lessons are funded by a $533,000, three-year grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes Ashtanga yoga.
Broyles said the program sets a dangerous precedent. "No matter how starved our school districts are for money, we must not allow our public servants to ‘sell’ our precious children to the highest bidder to be used as religious ‘guinea pigs.’"
But Katherine Stewart wrote in Religion Dispatches that Broyles and his National Center for Law and Policy should look in the mirror when making such claims.
In a lengthy piece that acknowledges the NCLP raises some legitimate issues over the entanglement of church and state, she notes the organization has ties to the Alliance Defense Fund, whose clients include Christian-based organizations that want their abstinence-only and character-development programs put into public school curriculum.
"Apparently the separation of church and school is a big deal for the ADF only when it involves the wrong kind of church," Stewart wrote.
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