Final Project: Debate of Yoga Taught in Public Schools

Posted on December 14, 2013 by


            Samantha Swanson

World Religion


Debate of Yoga Taught in Public Schools

            Fads come and go.  One fad that has become pretty popular in the United States of America is the practice of yoga.  Yoga is used for many reasons here.  Some examples are to relieve stress, focus, work out, improve mental health, and to increase flexibility.  Some public schools are starting to practice yoga because of the amazing health benefits. The definition of yoga is the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines, which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace.  People most commonly relate yoga to Buddhism or Hinduism.  Because of this relationship many problems have arose.  In public schools religion cannot be taught and many people argue yoga is promoting religion.  One thing that makes this argument difficult to handle is the definition of religion has changed many times over the years and is still not that clear.

The first article talked about how school districts need to be careful because of yoga’s historical connection to Buddhism and other religions.  Many parents are concerned because yoga is known for connecting spirituality as stated before in the definition.  Parents started to raise this concern after they learned that their children were taking time to focus on breathing and meditation exercises at the beginning of the year.  They referred to this as the quiet time program.  One quote from a parent stated, “I want to make sure that if there was a thread of spirituality, that whatever it was, it was in line with our beliefs.”  This quote is significant because it shows how unhappy parents are if their child learns a religion that is not of their same views.  Also it shows the concern they have about fairness because if a foreign religious practice like yoga is being taught then how is that fair when they are so strict on not celebrating/practicing any other religion. The program was recently stopped due to all the concerns of the parents.  This concern about yoga in public schools runs nation wide.  In this case they never fully decided if yoga was considered a religious practice.  They just stopped because it was creating uproar from the parents.  I think if they really wanted to keep this quiet time program running they would have a case because parents sued a California district citing religious concerns, but a judge ruled against them, saying there is nothing religious about yoga’s teaching of respect, proper breathing and posture.

Some different concerns were brought up in the second article.  It starts off with this lady talking about how she practices yoga but has concerns for her children because they had been learning yoga in school.  She knew about its Buddhist and Hindu roots and didn’t want her children to be indoctrinated.  Indoctrinated means to teach a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.  One of her main concerns was that schools are so strict about not celebrating Christmas or Easter but why is it ok to practice yoga? She then took a step back and realized her kids weren’t being asked to raise their hands in prayer or chant, “Om,” she recognized all the wonderful things yoga had to offer her children.   They were learning how to quiet their mind and bodies.  They were also learning strength, balance and flexibility.  If yoga is practiced within parameters that separate church and state then it is suitable in public schools.  If you practice it in just a physical manner it has many thing to offer children as talked about previously.

A California family and a legal group are suing a public school district for allowing yoga instructors to teach students, saying the practice causes a constitutional conflict.  This conflict arose when the school district was discussing complaints about the program.  This program was funded by Ashtanga yoga institute, which was approved for schools.  The program was during school hours and the yoga sessions were part of the schools curriculum.  At the time of the discussion the school did not plan to stop the program.  Dean Broyles from the NCLP is representing the family of two young students in the Encinitas Union School District.  Broyles believes that Ashtanga yoga is “inherently and pervasively religious.” He is seeking to have an injunction issued to stop the program. Some cases that were brought up about religious expression at public facilities are Santa Fe v. Jane Doe decision in 2000 that barred prayers at high school football games; the County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union case from 1989, which barred nativity scenes from a courthouse; and Abington v. Schempp from 1963, which halted the reading of Bible passages in public schools. As you can see all of these cases have ruled against religion but in my own personal opinion I don’t think these cases relate much to the current case.  This is because in our case the big question is, is yoga a religious practice?  From the schools explanations of what is happening in these yoga sessions I would have to say no, nothing they are doing is considered religious.  In these court cases brought up to make their case stronger they ban direct religious acts such as praying or setting up a nativity scene so therefore these cases don’t relate much to the current conflict.  This case is currently in California’s court system.

After deep analysis of these articles I came to the conclusion that yoga taught in public schools doesn’t go against the constitution for many reasons.  One reason being in schools most of the time it is not even called yoga it is called something along the lines of quiet time.  What happens during quiet time is stretching, muscle building, relaxing and learning how to focus.  Does this in any way sound religious?  The answer is no, they aren’t praying or learning about the history or doing chants, they are simply focusing and working out their bodies.  In one article they brought up some court cases related to religious expression at public facilities.  None of these cases frankly relate because in these cases they are doing direct religious acts.  The definition of religion is the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.  The activities that are actually going on in these so-called yoga classes in public schools such as stretching, focusing etc. relate nothing to the definition of religion.  Therefore yoga does not constitute as religion or a religious practice.


Posted in: Buddhism, Hinduism