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SoCal Parents Sue to Stop Yoga Classes

SAN DIEGO (CN) - Parents sued the Encinitas school board, claiming schools in the wealthy coastal enclave are using yoga classes to indoctrinate "captive" students with Buddhism, and discriminating against kids who dare to opt out of the "religious experiment."

Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock sued Superintendent Timothy Baird and the trustees of the Encinitas Unified School District, in Superior Court, on behalf of their children, J.S. and F.S. The children's grandfather, William Bentz, is also a plaintiff.

The Sedlocks demand a court order suspending the district's yoga program, and reinstituting physical education instead. The mother claims that "Ashtanga yoga conflicts with the Christian religious beliefs and practices she and her husband are inculcating in her children at home."

They Sedlocks that the district's Ashtanga yoga program "unlawfully promotes and advances religion, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Western metaphysics," in violation of the Constitution.

Ashtanga yoga, a form of classical Indian yoga, was imported to the United States by K. Pattabhi Jois, according to the complaint. The school district's partner for the program, the KP Jois Foundation, was founded in California after Jois died at 93 of natural causes, according to the complaint.

"The KP Jois Foundation's (hereinafter Foundation) goal is to spread the 'gospel' of religious Ashtanga yoga to school children nationwide and worldwide," according to the 36-page complaint. "The Foundation paid EUSD [Encinitas Unified School District] $533,000, purchasing access to the district's young and impressionable (kindergarten through sixth grade) students in all nine EUSD schools in order to conduct a 'scientific study' on EUSD's captive student audience to prove the efficacy of Ashtanga yoga for children and to develop a model Ashtanga yoga curriculum. The Foundation desires to capitalize on the results of this religious experiment, including the EUSD/Foundation Ashtanga yoga curriculum, by promoting Ashtanga yoga to all public schools nationwide."

The Sedlocks claim the "inherently and pervasively religious" yoga classes eat up 60 of the 100 minutes allotted for physical education, and that no alternative is offered to children who opt out.

Children are taught religious yoga positions and teachings, the Sedlocks say. This includes the warrior pose, representing a "Hindu god (Shiva) slicing off someone's head (Daksha) and replacing it with the head of a goat," and the sun salutation pose, which is "worship of the Hindu solar deity," according to the complaint.

Though the school district claims the program has no religious element, the Sedlocks claims "empirical evidence" shows that yoga may lead to conversion.

"In fact, even 'secularized' yoga promotes Hinduism and related religions, in that participants in 'secularized' yoga often do come to embrace religious yoga," the complaint states. "Religion scholars Sabine Henrichsen-Schrembs and Peter Versteeg have noticed that regardless of why people begin doing yoga, 'a shift seems to take place,' leading people to 'a whole new spiritual awareness and totally identifying with the yoga philosophy.'"

The Sedlocks claim that families and children who do not participate are "ignored, harassed, and bullied."

"Some children were even told that they and their parents were 'stupid' for believing that the Asthanga yoga program was religious and for deciding to opt out of the program," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs are represented by Dean Broyles with The National Center for Law & Policy, of Escondido.

The school district said in a statement that its yoga program is "based on California Physical Education Standards," has "absolutely no religious association and is mainstream yoga with stretching, flexibility and breathing exercises shown to improve overall strength and wellness."

Encinitas, pop. 62,000, is wealthy even by suburban San Diego standards. Its estimated median household income of $81,907 in 2009 was 39 percent above the state median of $58,931, according to city-data.com. Its median home/condo value of $604,468 was 57 percent above the statewide median of $384,200 that year. Encinitas is 79 percent Anglo-American.

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