Closing Arguments in Yoga in Encinitas School Trial: Ruling This Week

The trial challenging the offering of yoga classes as PE in the Encinitas school system resumed last week, with closing arguments extending far longer than expected. While a ruling was first expected on Monday, July 1, the lengthy closing arguments may delay a ruling in the case till Thursday, U-T San Diego reports.

The ruling could prove historical, determining whether yoga is a variant of Hindu-based religion or, as proponents say, simply exercise. The suit was filed by parents wishing to remove the yoga program from the physical education curriculum in Encinitas schools.

In the closing arguments, plaintiff’s attorney Dean Broyles argued that the program sets “a horrible precedent for other religious organizations to buy influence,” since the program is funded by a grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, which he says has deep roots in Hinduism, reports the Encinitas Coast News.

Referencing testimony from Candy Gunther Brown, a religious studies professor at Indiana University, Broyles maintained that there are two broad categories of religion, “Those that are belief and word focused such as…Christianity, and those that are practice and experience focused such as Hinduism. Americans may not recognize practice and experience-oriented religions as religious, because they think religion requires that one believe or say certain things.”

Using that logic, Broyles argued that yoga poses are inherently religious and demanded that the yoga classes be discontinued, in line with the Constitution’s separation of church and state. The Coast News reports:

As further evidence of yoga’s spirituality, Broyles said that the sequence of poses in EUSD classes mirrors Ashtanga yoga, a particularly religious kind of yoga. Further, he said some children spontaneously chanted “om” during yoga classes, even though that wasn’t part of the planned lesson, and they weren’t instructed to do so.

“It shows they’re connecting it to something more than physical exercise,” Broyles said.

Judge John Meyer questioned that reasoning, among other parts of Broyles’ closing arguments.

“The curriculum is the basis for the class,” Meyer said. “What happens in class is not what happens with the curriculum — there’s a difference. “If you go to observe a class, and there are two children that use profanity, and then you conclude the curriculum includes teaching profanity, that’s wrong.”

On the defense side, Attorney David Peck, representing 150 families in the Encinitas school district, made his closing arguments Wednesday morning, citing that the yoga exercises are strictly stretching and breathing. It was introduced into the schools with the hopes that it would help the elementary school students focus better on their studies, keep them calm, and perhaps even curb bullying.

Equating yoga with religion means other school programs could theoretically be sued, he noted. The Coast News reports:

“Think of the slippery slope implication we would be faced with if any type of physical exercise that someone perceives to be religious, or incorporates into their religion, is banned from the public schools on constitutional grounds.

“There are sects out there that consider running to be religious…and certainly nobody is suggesting that we ban running from the schools,” Peck said.

Another attorney representing the families from Encinitas, Jack Sleeth, countered Brown’s testimony, stating that it is not credible, as she also believes chiropractic care and acupuncture are also religious.

He stated that the small link between the school’s yoga program and Hinduism does not make yoga religious. He stated: “The Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn is linked to Druidism, as practiced in England before the Roman conquest,” Sleeth said. “But it would be nonsense to say that the president can’t put out Easter eggs.”

San Diego’s Superior Court Judge, John Meyer, anticipates that a ruling will be given Thursday at the soonest. Both sides of this case have agreed that the Judge, rather than a jury, will make the decision.

Recent articles


Upcoming courses


Yoga for
every body

How to Avoid the Top 3 Pitfalls of Forward Bends

With Julie Gudmedstad

Recent articles


Sorry, You have reached your
monthly limit of views

To access, join us for a free 7-day membership trial to support expanding the Pose Library resources to the yoga community.

Sign up for a FREE 7-day trial