Friday, April 03, 2015

Sedlock v. Baird (Cal. Ct. App. - April 3, 2015)

I like everything about this case.

I like that the City of Encinitas started a yoga program for its schoolkids.  It's good exercise.  It's a great thing.  Were I a better man, I'd do it.  So getting kids started on it is great.  That Encinitas -- a funky beachside city in which I formerly resided -- did it is wonderful.

But I also like that the plaintiffs felt comfortable enough to challenge the program.  They think that yoga has a substantial religious component.  As it surely can.  They're worried that we're potentially mixing church and state here.  That's a no-no.  So they file a lawsuit.  I like that people are vigilant about this.  The First Amendment is in there for a reason.

I also like that amici then pour in.  People care.  Great job.  Let the court know.  Give 'em your perspective and arguments.  On both sides.

One of the interested parties even intervenes.  Even better.  Plus, they've got a great name.  "Yes! Yoga For Encinitas Students."  Love it.

We've got a great judiciary.  We take our First Amendment rights seriously.  We assess the validity of the program at issue through participation by affected citizens, committed advocates, and the steady work of neutral, informed judges.

What a country.

Finally, and importantly, I also love the result.  The trial court finds that the Encinitas yoga program doesn't violate the First Amendment.  The Court of Appeal affirms.

They're right.

I can readily imagine a yoga program that might well be unconstitutional.  But this one isn't.  The school district has done an exceptionally good job removing any religious components from what is clearly (in my view) a secular exercise program.  Indeed, I think Encinitas has probably even been more protective in this regard than it need be.  Some representative examples:

- The program takes down any posters about India (for fear of "referencing" the Hindu religion);
- They rename the "lotus" position -- named after a plant, for goodness sake, not a god -- into the "criss-cross-applesauce" position; and
- They tell the kids to stop saying "namaste".  Apparently a "Howdy," "Aloha," or fist-bump will do.

The truth of the matter is that, at least as most people practice it in the U.S., yoga's pretty much an entirely secular experience.  Sure, there's a "mellowness" and meditative aspect to it.  And there are similar things in the religious tradition from which it arises.  So is there a hint of religion here?  I wouldn't disagree.

But, in truth, we've secularized the poop out of it.  I've got no problem presenting it to kids.  Indeed, I think it's a good thing, not a bad one.  And certainly doesn't "establish" the Hindu religion in violation of the First Amendment.

I can think of a plethora of religiously-backed -- but presently "secular" -- parts of public schools that have a much deeper connection with religion than the challenged yoga program here.  For example, it's hardly a coincidence that the "winter" break falls over Christmas.  Or, to take an especially timely example, the current "spring" break for many students.  Formerly called "Easter" break.

Why don't we have school (or, for most people, work) on Sunday?  Didn't just happen randomly.  Religious backdrop.  Sabbath.  That's an integral part of most schools.  Hard to argue that that's a "secular" tradition that's perfectly legitimate but that performing yoga somehow crosses the line.

We've secularized a lot of things.  Including but not limited to yoga.  Which is not at all to take away from those who want to practice it religiously, or find the religious and/or spiritual component to be a significant part of their experience.  Any more than taking off a Sunday (or a Saturday, or a Friday night) for secular reasons detracts from the experience of someone who takes off those days to keep the sabbath and who finds such conduct religiously fulfilling (or compelled).

Different strokes for different folks.

So I like what the Court of Appeal does here.  Indeed, I've liked a lot of what the Court of Appeal has done lately.  (Informed readers may well understand my reference.)  That today's opinion gets issued on Good Friday is just another bonus.

So heading into the weekend, I say to all:  Namaste.