Attorney against school yoga program delivers closing arguments

Attorney against school yoga program delivers closing arguments
Attorney Dean Broyles said children made "religious hand gestures" during school yoga classes. He wrapped up his closing arguments Tuesday. Photo by Jared Whitlock

ENCINITAS — Attorney Dean Broyles, representing the plaintiff’s case, kicked off closing arguments Tuesday by stating many Westerners have a difficult time comprehending Eastern religions. 

He maintained that followers of Hinduism worship the divine through physical movement like yoga, rather than words. As evidence, he referenced testimony from witness Candy Gunther Brown, who is a religious studies professor at Indiana University.

“We have two broad categories of religion,” Broyles said. “Those that are belief and word focused such as…Christianity and those that are practice and experience focused such as Hinduism.

“‘Americans may not recognize practice and experience-oriented religions as religious, because they think religion requires that one believe or say certain things,’” Broyles said, quoting Brown’s testimony.

With this evidence, Broyles affirmed yoga poses are inherently religious. Consequently, the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) breached the establishment clause of the constitution, otherwise known as separation of church and state.

Broyles filed the lawsuit four months ago on behalf of parents whose children are enrolled at EUSD, arguing the yoga program should be disbanded immediately.

As further evidence of yoga’s spirituality, Broyles said that the sequence of poses in EUSD classes mirrors Ashtanga yoga, a particularly religious kind of yoga. Further, he said some children spontaneously chanted “om” during yoga classes, even though that wasn’t part of the planned lesson, and they weren’t instructed to do so.

“It shows they’re connecting it to something more than physical exercise,” Broyles said.

Judge John Meyer questioned that reasoning, among other parts of Broyles’ closing arguments.

“The curriculum is the basis for the class,” Meyer said. “What happens in class is not what happens with the curriculum — there’s a difference.

“If you go to observe a class, and there are two children that use profanity, and then you conclude the curriculum includes teaching profanity, that’s wrong,” Meyer added.

Later, Broyles said the legality of the case largely depends on whether an informed child could find any religious component in the school’s yoga program.

Meyer asked how a child could know if yoga is religious.

“How would they know that?” Meyer asked. “They’re little kids.”

Broyles responded: “They would know it from television, they would know it from living in Encinitas, their parents…they would know it from cultural references and from what they learned in various locations.”

But Broyles added that’s irrelevant because legal precedent “assumes the child is informed.”

At one point, Meyer asked Broyles if the district could have avoided the lawsuit if the program was called something else. Broyles said that wouldn’t change the religious nature of the program.

He also maintained that the district failed to produce a viable PE alternative for children who were opted out of yoga. Broyles said prominent law cases like “Engel v. Vitale” conclude that opt-out provisions don’t automatically make a program non-religious.

Broyles went on to argue that the Jois Foundation, a group that provided a $533,000 grant for the yoga program as well as cooking and other classes, bought its way into EUSD schools to spread religion.

He said the Jois Foundation has deep roots in Hinduism, tracing back to Patabhi Jois, an Indian yoga instructor who taught yoga periodically in Encinitas for 20 years beginning in 1975.

“He is very clear: The practice might appear physical, but this is very wrong, it produces a spiritual transformation,” Broyles said of Patabhi Jois.

And Broyles said it’s troubling that the grant proposal for the program specifies the Jois Foundation should train and approve the yoga teachers.

The grant proposal, which was drafted about a year ago, indeed states that, according to David Miyashiro, assistant superintendent of education services for EUSD, who testified Monday.

But in reality, the Jois Foundation didn’t coach or certify the 10 instructors after they were hired.

Miyashiro said the grant language should have been “changed,” but wasn’t amended due to the busyness of the approaching school year. He added that the Jois Foundation had little influence over the curriculum.

On Monday, Broyles said his closing argument would take two hours, but his remarks stretched on over five hours.

Both parties agreed that Meyer, rather than a jury, will decide on whether the program is legal. He indicated he might rule on the case on Thursday.

The plaintiff isn’t seeking monetary damages, only that the program stop.



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