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Parents Sue Over Elementary School Yoga Program, Fear Kids Are Learning 'Neopaganism'

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Parents whose children attend several Encinitas elementary schools are so fed up with the yoga classes there that they have filed a lawsuit against the district.

The yoga classes began "at about half of Encinitas' elementary schools this fall after the district received a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, which promotes Ashtanga yoga," according to KPBS.

Around that time is when parents began to protest the classes, because they claim that yoga is inherently religious, and the practice of Ashtanga yoga is one "in which physical actions are inextricable from the spiritual beliefs underlying them," meaning the class is a violation of the laws mandating the separation of church and state.

According to a New York Times story from December 2012, one vocal parent of a first grader, Mary Eady, explained her objection:

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“They’re not just teaching physical poses, they’re teaching children how to think and how to make decisions,” Ms. Eady said. “They’re teaching children how to meditate and how to look within for peace and for comfort. They’re using this as a tool for many things beyond just stretching.”

Eady and other parents have said for several months now that the classes lead students down a religious path, which is inappropriate for a public school classroom.

Religion Dispatches took a look at Eady's background, however, and noted her professional life ties her to a group that works to eradicate what they call "neopaganism,":

Eady works at a Christian organization called Truthxchange, whose chief mission is to “respond to the rising tide of neopaganism.” Her lawyer’s organization, NCPL, is an affiliate of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly the Alliance Defense Fund), a conservative Christian legal advocacy group that has litigated on behalf of evangelical activity in schools and the broader public square. As might be imagined, the ADF takes a dim view of “neopaganism,” whatever that means to them.

The Encinitas Unified School District (EUSD) says that students--and parents--have had an "opt-out" choice when it comes to participating in the yoga classes. This is where the newly-filed lawsuit comes in, however, as the suit claims "students who opt out of the yoga instruction are being denied the minimum amount of physical education class time guaranteed under state law."

The lawsuit is looking to have the classes halted completely. It was filed by parents Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, who are "represented by Dean Broyles of the conservative-Christian National Center for Law and Policy."

Of the classes and the suit, the Associated Press reports Broyles said: "EUSD's Ashtanga yoga program represents a serious breach of the public trust," Broyles said. "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."

In December, Broyles "likened Encinitas students to religious guinea pigs," notes KPBS.

EUSD Superintendent Timothy B. Baird said:

"We're not teaching religion," he said. "We teach a very mainstream physical fitness program that happens to incorporate yoga into it. It's part of our overall wellness program. The vast majority of students and parents support it."
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Though he says he has not seen the lawsuit, he says the district intends to continue offering the yoga classes. Baird also says several law firms have approached the district with offers to represent them pro bono in the case.