Skeptical appeals court hears yoga arguments

ENCINITAS — A skeptical state appeals panel heard arguments Wednesday in a conservative rights group’s litigation against the Encinitas Union School District’s yoga program.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal panel of Judith McConnell, Richard Huffman and Cynthia Aaron will rule on the appeal by June, but reportedly signaled skepticism with the National Center for Law and Policy’s argument against the yoga program throughout the hearing.

“It’s void of religious, mystical or spiritual trappings,” Judge Cynthia Aaron said, according to U-T San Diego. The judges interrupted Dean Broyles, the attorney representing the conservative group, several times during his nearly 30-minute oral argument to the court.

In a news release issued later Wednesday, Broyles described the panel as a “hot bench.”

Broyles in the news release summarized the crux of his argument, that the school’s yoga program, even after the district’s attempts to strip religious vestiges from it, still contained formal religious rituals in a school sponsored class, which violates the Constitution’s “establishment” clause.

“To attempt to strip religion from objectively religious rituals, to try to separate the metaphysical from the physical, is a fool’s errand,” Broyles said.

Attorneys for the school district and for the group Yoga for Encinitas Students — known as YES — argued that the yoga program was not religious, likening it to other sports.

“The physical reason for the sequence is definitely to warm up the body, to stretch particular muscles, and get ready to do the more difficult sequence,” Carelli said, according to U-T San Diego. “It’s the same thing as a football team or basketball team. It’s just stretching. It’s just balancing. We are not putting a religious label on it.”

The National Center is appealing the original ruling of Sedlock v. Baird, the original case case filed on behalf of the parents of two El Camino Creek students, who said the district’s yoga program endorsed Hindu religious beliefs promoted in Ashtanga yoga and indoctrinated students with those beliefs.

Superior Court Judge John Meyer, however, ruled in 2013 in favor of the school district and YES that the district’s program did not endorse one religion over another and did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s “establishment clause.”

The battle over the school district’s yoga program gained national attention as it pitted education officials with religious and conservative rights groups over whether the exercise program is appropriate for elementary school aged children.

The school district has argued that the yoga it teaches students has been stripped of its religious vestiges and is a vital part of the district’s health and wellness program. It has expanded the yoga program significantly in size after receiving a $1.3 million grant from the Sonima Foundation — previously known as the Jois Foundation — by increasing the number of yoga instructors from 10 to 18.

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