Yoga in Schools – The Trojan Horse in the Encinitas Lawsuit

“All the days I go to yoga I feel so good and the days that we don’t have yoga I feel worse. If the school district took away yoga I would be sad because we wouldn’t be able to use the breathing ball and I would miss yoga very much.”

~ A fourth grader in the Paul Ecke Central school charged in the Ecinitas case in a letter to the court.

The lawsuit against the Encinitas, CA school system to keep yoga out of schools now heads to trial. One the surface of it, the suit was brought by parents of a child in Encinitas, Calif., who are challenging the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) on the accusation that yoga sessions taught in school violate religious freedom, and that yoga constitutes religious indoctrination.

There is a lot more going on behind the scenes than two parents taking offense that their child is taught Surya Namaskar. In this post, author Carol Horton explores the lawsuit, and the considerable forces behind the suit. The Jois Foundation and its lawyers, who are the defendants in the case, may not realize just how many soldiers are contained in the Trojan Horse the organization is up against, Horton speculates.

The ruling in the Encinitas law suit about yoga in schools stands to have far-reaching repercussions. There is a growing and successful movement to bring yoga into non-traditional settings such as public schools, VA hospitals, homeless shelters and so on is growing. However, if the courts rule in the plaintiff’s favor, then any institution with any public funding (which means many, if not most working with underserved populations today) will have to think hard about whether they want to risk offering yoga or not.

Litigating Against “the Lie”

Here’s how NPR described Encinitas parents Mary Eady’s involvement in the yoga controversy: 

Encinitas Superintendent Tim Baird says yoga is just one element of the district’s physical education curriculum . . . But when Mary Eady visited one of the yoga classes at her son’s school last year, she saw much more than a fitness program.

“They were being taught to thank the sun for their lives and the warmth that it brought, the life that it brought to the earth and they were told to do that right before they did their sun salutation exercises,” she says.

Those looked like religious teachings to her, so she opted to keep her son out of the classes. The more Eady reads about the Jois Foundation and its founders’ beliefs in the spiritual benefits of Ashtanga yoga, the more she’s convinced that the poses and meditation can’t be separated from their Hindu roots . . . 

Eady is part of a group of parents working with Dean Broyles, president and chief counsel of the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy.

OK, so Ms. Eady grew concerned and took action. Fair enough, right? Well – it’s not really that simple.

According to an excellent investigative journalism article at Alternet, “Mary Eady, one of the parents organizing against Encinitas’ yoga program . . . works at a Christian organization called truthXchange.” 

As it turns out, Ms. Eady is one of four staff members of this group, which describes itself as an activist “ministry” organization. Its vision, according to the group’s website is to broadcast “a gospel-driven worldview response to pagan spirituality as well as recruiting, equipping, and mobilizing a network of fearless Christian leaders.”

Spreading the Gospel by Transforming the Legal System

Eady is part of a group of parents working with Dean Broyles, President of the NCLP. According to its website, the NCLP is a non-profit “legal defense organization which focuses on the protection and promotion of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, parental rights, and other civil liberties.” 

Throughout recorded history, liberty must be esteemed, fought for, established, and guarded if is to survive and flourish. Today is no different. Indeed, the enemies of freedom have multiplied, and with them, we have clearly witnessed a mounting number of assaults on faith, family and freedom. Our attorneys stand ready, willing, and able to defend freedom against its enemies . . . We are motivated in our endeavors by our faith to keep the doors open for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

The lead attorney in the Encinitas case, Dean Broyles, has close links to leading Christian right organizations. He is the President of the National Center for Law and Policy (NCLP), and an affiliate attorney of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), from which he received extensive training.

Recently renamed the Alliance Defending Freedom, the ADF website describes the organization as follows:

Recognizing the need for a strong, coordinated legal defense against growing attacks on religious freedom, more than 30 prominent Christian leaders launched Alliance Defending Freedom in 1994. Over the past 18 years, this unique legal ministry has brought together thousands of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations that work tirelessly to advocate for the right of people to freely live out their faith in America and around the world.

Right-Wing Watch explains that the ADF “sees itself as a counter to the ACLU.” They are well-financed, highly networked, strongly anti-gay and anti-abortion, and quite powerful.

Unique to the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is their collective of high-powered founders, including wealthy right-wing organizations such as Dobson’s Focus on the Family and D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries.

The ADF embodies the beliefs of its founders, harnessing the efforts of a cadre of right-wing groups with hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal. All of these groups are influential members of the Right working towards a common goal: To see the law and U.S. government enshrined with conservative Christian principles.

On its website, the ADF lists its official “Allies” as including 13 legal groups, 10 advocacy organizations, 8 “educational” institiutions, and 8 “ministries.” Many of these organizations are extremely powerful in their own right. Considered as a tight network of right-wing activists with deep pockets and literally missionary zeal, the forces lined up against the Jois Foundation’s yoga program are formidable indeed.

In this context, the Jois grant of $550,000 to fund the yoga program in the Encinitas school, while huge in the yoga world, seems laughably small. True, it was big enough to put them into the NCLP/ADF/truthxchange crosshairs. I wonder if they realize, however, just how many soldiers are contained in that battleship of a conservative Christian Trojan Horse.  

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