Protesting yoga in school

When is touching your toes just touching your toes and when is it teaching Hinduism, and what about Bible study? Katherine Stewart writes at Religion Dispatches:

That is the question that emerged from reporting in the New York Times, Fox News, and the Guardian on the threat of a lawsuit by a group of public school parents in Encinitas, California over a yoga class in a public elementary school.

But the most compelling aspect of the controversy has nothing to do with the religious nature of yoga, or with the fears of parents. Rather, the case raises serious questions about the separation of church and school, and about the many religiously-driven programs that are already active in public education, even in Encinitas. As it turns out, there is so much religion in public education today that the fuss over yoga is like worrying about a stain on your blouse when your trousers are covered in mud.

There are two important ways to think about the issue of yoga—or other potentially religiously-inspired content in public schools. The first test has to do with the content of the program; the second has to do with the connection of the sponsoring organization to the curriculum being presented.

Category : The Lead

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4 Comments
  1. Bill Dilworth

    Makes me want to send the parents a copy of Fr. J.M Déchanet’s _Christian Yoga_. Of course, in the eyes of those likely to protest yoga class but turn a blind eye to “Good News Clubs,” the fact that it was written by an RC priest probably makes it the Devil’s work, too.

  2. C. Wingate

    I’m not terribly concerned with yoga as a form of exercise. The problem of course is that “yoga” means, in essence, “spiritual discipline”. If people started teaching my kids Hindu spiritual terms and the like in the course of gym class, I would object.

  3. Bill Dilworth

    Whether yoga itself means “spiritual discipline” is a matter of interpretation, C. Wingate, but the form we’re talking about is hatha yoga, the focus of which is (mostly) the physical body.

    I suppose that some people might consider some of the terminology used in yoga to be “Hindu spiritual terms” (although I think they’d be stretching the truth a bit). But karate, taekwondo, and other martial arts are taught in various elementary schools these days, and their terminology and theory are influenced by Eastern philosophy/spirituality, too. Is the teaching of terminology borrowed from a religious context in itself objectionable?

  4. Whether or not other programs in the school have Christian roots is rather beside the point.

    As a Catholic I go to a yoga class regularly, and, even amidst the “om’s” and “namaste’s” and Vedic chanting, I don’t imagine that I’m bending the knee to Ganesha. But I am quite aware of Hatha Yoga’s place in the overall system of Indian religion, understand that, for most of the teachers, it is a spiritual as well as physical discipline, and remain confident that I can enjoy the health benefits (and exotic flavor of the exercise) without engaging in it as my own religion. That said, I would certainly sympathize with a non-Hindu parent having concerns that a child might find the exercise a little confusing, even if the more overtly Hindu elements were scrubbed out.

    Saying the rosary is demonstrably an effective way to ease stress, but, even if it were said in Latin, so that it were as unintelligible to most as Sanskrit, I would understand if there were some concern about religious practice in the schools.

    Not that these things can’t occasionally be totally secularized. As I recall, one of the reasons for the Maccabean revolt was the offensive introduction of the Greek gymnasia into Judea. We don’t seem to have quite so many religious scruples about going to the gym any more.

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