Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Stretching Not a Religion

That's the ruling of court in California, which found that secular yoga classes offered as an alternative to traditional physical education classes at a public school do not promote religious beliefs. A lawsuit was brought against the school by Christian parents who believed that despite being stripped of all religious references and practices, the yoga classes still promoted Hinduism. They essentially argued that stretching constituted a religious practice, which is news to fitness enthusiasts everywhere.

“While the practice of yoga may be religious in some contexts, yoga classes as taught in the district are, as the trial court determined, ‘devoid of any religious, mystical, or spiritual trappings,’” the court wrote in a 3-0 opinion.

Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock and their two children had brought the lawsuit claiming yoga promoted Hinduism and inhibited Christianity. They were disappointed with the ruling and considering their options.

“No other court in the past 50 years has allowed public school officials to lead children in formal religious rituals like the Hindu liturgy of praying to, bowing to, and worshipping the sun god,” attorney Dean Broyles said in a statement.

Paul V Carelli IV, a lawyer for the district, said there were no rituals occurring in the classroom and no one was worshipping the sun or leading Hindu rites. The district said the practice was taught in a secular way to promote strength, flexibility and balance.

So these parents were totally convinced that religious practices of praying, chanting, and so forth were going on - even though they weren't. So either these folks are seriously misinformed, or just plain stupid. There's really no more polite way to put it. The court ruling is no surprise either, because the precedent set by the case going the other way would have been bizarre - that any action done in a religious context by anyone would still be religious even without said context. Many religions read texts during their services, for example, so should students not be allowed to read?

Yoga poses practiced with neither ritual or ceremony have nothing to do with religion, and are no different in that respect than reading non-religious texts. They aren't even all that Hindu, despite the way the practice is sometimes presented. Modern yoga only dates back to the 1960's, when poses shown in old Indian sources were combined with systems of European calisthenics disseminated by the British during their occupation of the sub-continent. Much of the chanting and such is simple orientalism designed to make yoga feel exotic to Westerners.

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