Ohio public schools across several districts have agreed to exclude yoga from its classrooms after more than 100 local pastors filed a complaint. The group of pastors argued that coercing students to participate in a “form of Eastern religion” violated the First Amendment.
In March, the group of pastors sent a letter to the Ohio State Board of Education and the public school superintendents. The pastors also addressed the letter to Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and Ohio Senate President Larry J. Obhof.
“Yoga is not merely an external physical practice with a purely physiological effect, but rather an internal spiritual practice. Yoga advertises itself as being able to provide the power to change an individual and transform the world,” the letter said.
“Specifically, yoga’s stretching (asanas) and breathing (pranayama)… are… spiritually transformative. The courts have repeatedly ruled that yoga and meditation are religious practices.”
Lexington Local School District Superintendent Mike Ziegelhofer responded to the pastors’ complaint with a letter of his own. He explained he would do what was necessary to ensure his schools are abiding by the law.
“Effective immediately… all employees of the Lexington Local School District will be notified… that the use or endorsement of… yoga… or practice of any religious beliefs is not permitted… during school hours.”
Lucas Local School District Superintendent Bradley Herman also said his schools would comply with the law.
“As a public school district, we are mindful of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the prohibition of religious instruction. To that end, we must ensure that we are not doing anything that runs afoul of our obligations and we appreciate your concerns.”
The pastors’ letter pointed to a handful of court cases addressing the practice of yoga in schools. In the 1988 Arkansas case Powell v. Perry, the court concluded that “yoga is a method of practicing Hinduism.”
In addition, the case of Self Realization Fellowship Church v. Ananda Church of Self Realization in 1995 considered the “Hindu-Yoga spiritual tradition” as a “religious tradition.”
Furthermore, the court ruled in the 1979 case of Malnak v. Yogi that meditation can be viewed as religious. The court also considered a course on transcendental meditation an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
Although the pastors are aware that yoga brings “benefits,” they argue the biblical faith brings just as many benefits. The pastors also contend that public schools prohibit Intelligent Design, prayer, and the Ten Commandments. Therefore, schools should prohibit yoga as well.