Lawyer appeals judge’s ruling over yoga in schools

Lawyer appeals judge’s ruling over yoga in schools
Students at Paul Ecke Central participate in a yoga class. This summer, the program was found to be constitutional, a decision that an attorney appealed last week. Photo by Jared Whitlock

ENCINITAS — Last week, attorney Dean Broyles filed an appeal of Judge John Meyer’s ruling that EUSD’s (Encinitas Union School District) yoga program promotes physical and mental wellness, and not any religious doctrine. 

Broyles, who brought the lawsuit on initially, said on Tuesday that he’s confident that a three-judge panel in a San Diego appellate court will see that yoga’s religiosity violates the U.S. Constitution. But if necessary, he’ll take the case all the way to the California Supreme Court, he said.

When issuing his ruling earlier this summer, Meyer said expert testimony proved that yoga has roots in Hinduism. But Meyer added that there’s enough evidence to show that the yoga being practiced in the school’s district is devoid of spiritual or religious trappings.

Broyles said that Meyer acknowledged the opening and closing sequences of EUSD yoga mirror a particularly religious kind of yoga called Ashtanga in a revised statement of finding after his ruling.

He added that it’s concerning that the resemblance to Ashtanga yoga wasn’t enough of a “red flag” for Meyer to find excessive government entanglement with religion and suspend the program. But he believes the appellate court will make the connection and view yoga as unconstitutional.

On the same note, he said the district isn’t qualified to decide whether “enough religion has been stripped” from the yoga program.

“I’m worried about the government picking religious winners and losers,” Broyles said.

Broyles said the case would be heard sometime next year, adding that yoga in public schools is not a “local issue.” He noted that the India Supreme Court is mulling over whether yoga is religious and can be taught in the public education system.

Since the trial, the EUSD yoga program has expanded, going from 10 teachers to 18. That’s thanks to a $1.4 million grant from the Sonima Foundation — a nonprofit previously known as the Jois Foundation.

Broyles said EUSD is “doubling down” on an unconstitutional program.

EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird said last week’s announcement from Broyles was expected. Broyles indicated at the conclusion of the trial this summer that an appeal would be coming.

Three attorneys represented the district pro bono during the trial, and Baird said it’s likely they’ll continue to do so. While the district hasn’t racked up legal fees, Baird said district staff has spent time on the case — a cost that’s difficult to estimate, he said.

Baird is doubtful the appeal will prevail, adding that Meyer “did a good job explaining” why EUSD yoga is secular. And Baird said he doesn’t believe the case will go beyond the appellate court.

“I don’t know if there’s enough teeth for this to keep going forever,” Baird said.

“Most people see that yoga is a secular activity,” he added.

Because Meyer ruled the program passed constitutional muster, Baird noted EUSD has received more calls from school districts considering yoga.

“They were waiting to see what would happen,” Baird said.



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