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Sedlock v. Baird

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

April 3, 2015

STEPHEN SEDLOCK et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
TIMOTHY BAIRD et al., Defendants and Respondents YES! YOGA FOR ENCINITAS STUDENTS, Intervener and Respondent.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. 37-2013-00035910-CU-MC-CTL, John S. Meyer, Judge.

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National Center for Law and Policy and Dean Robert Broyles for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Kevin T. Snider, Michael J. Peffer and Matthew B. McReynolds for Pacific Justice Institute as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants

Alan Jay Reinach for Church State Council as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.

James Leslie Hirsen and Deborah Jane Dewart for World Faith Foundation as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Stutz Artiano Shinoff and Holtz, Daniel R. Shinoff, Paul V. Carelli IV, Jack M. Sleeth, Jr., and Allison R. Cappozzoli for Defendants and Respondents.

Atkison, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, Stephanie Marie White, Paul M. Loya and Warren A. Kinsler for California School Boards Association's Education Legal Alliance as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, Kevin Murray Fong and Nathaniel Robert Smith for Yoga Alliance as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.

Coast Law Group, David A. Peck, Livia Borak; Snell & Wilmer and Mary-Christine Sungaila for Intervener and Respondent.

James & Stewart, Irene E. Stewart; and Martin S. Kaufman for Atlantic Legal Foundation as Amicus Curiae for Intervener and Respondent.





For many in this country, the practice of yoga is an entirely secular experience undertaken for reasons such as increasing physical flexibility,

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decreasing pain, and reducing stress. For others, the practice of yoga is a religious ritual, undertaken for spiritual purposes. In this case, we are required to determine whether a school district's institution of a yoga program as a component of its physical education curriculum constitutes an impermissible establishment of religion in violation of the California Constitution.

After a careful review of the extensive evidence presented in the trial court concerning the nature of the particular yoga program at issue in this case, we conclude that the program is secular in purpose, does not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and does not excessively entangle the school district in religion. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court properly determined that the district's yoga program does not violate our state Constitution.



A. Procedural background

In February 2013, appellants Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, and their children, J.S. and F.S., by and through their guardian William Frederick Bentz (collectively Sedlocks), filed this action against the Encinitas Union School District, its superintendent, Timothy Baird, and the District's five governing board members (collectively the District).[1] In a verified petition for writ of mandate and complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief, the Sedlocks alleged that the District's implementation of an Ashtanga yoga program as a component of its physical education curriculum violated various religious freedom provisions of the California Constitution.[2] The Sedlocks sought a writ of mandate and brought claims for injunctive and declaratory relief in which they requested that the court enjoin the District from continuing to implement its yoga program and declare the program unconstitutional.

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An entity called Yes! Yoga for Encinitas Students[3] filed a motion to intervene in support of the District and its yoga program. The trial court granted the motion to intervene.[4] The Sedlocks and respondents subsequently filed trial briefs, together with accompanying declarations and exhibits, and the trial court held a bench trial on the matter. After the trial, the court entered a statement of decision in which it concluded that the District's yoga program is constitutional. The court entered a judgment in favor of respondents. The Sedlocks timely appeal the judgment.

B. Factual background [5]

1. The District

The District is a public school district consisting of nine elementary schools. It serves approximately 5, 600 students in grades Kindergarten through Sixth, who live in Encinitas and the La Costa area of Carlsbad.

2. Ashtanga yoga

Ashtanga yoga is a form of yoga developed and popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois. According to Jois, the meaning of yoga is explained in a series of Hindu texts, including the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and Yoga Sutras. Jois first established an institute for the teaching of Ashtanga yoga in India in the 1940s, and introduced Ashtanga yoga in the United States after traveling to Encinitas in 1974.

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As developed and popularized by Jois, Ashtanga yoga prescribes eight limbs. The limbs are referred to as yamas (moral codes), niyamas (self-purification), asanas (postures), pranayana (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawing the mind from the senses), dharana (concentration), and samadhi (union with the divine).

Ashtanga yoga prescribes approximately 100 yoga poses, including two series of opening poses, two series of poses characterized as either primary or intermediate, and a series of finishing poses.[6]

3. The Jois Yoga Foundation

During the 2011-2012 school year, the Jois Yoga Foundation (the Foundation) funded a yoga program at one of the District's schools, Capri Elementary. According to the trial court, the Foundation[7] is a foundation with a "mission to establish and teach Ashtanga yoga in the community, at minimum, the physical postures, breathing, and relaxation." In addition, the Foundation has an interest in promoting yoga in schools as an alternative to traditional physical education. However, as the trial court noted, the record contains "little direct evidence as to... the structure of the [Foundation], " and there is "no evidence that it is a religious foundation, per se."

4. The 2011 yoga program at Capri Elementary

The principal of Capri Elementary hired Jennifer Brown, who also taught at a Jois yoga studio in Encinitas, [8] to teach the yoga classes. Brown is certified to teach Ashtanga yoga by the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. The yoga classes that Brown taught at Capri Elementary were based in part on the primary series of poses in Ashtanga yoga. Brown also taught her students some Sanskrit words related to yoga. In addition, Brown read selections from a book called "Myths of the Asanas, " which contains numerous references to Hindu deities. Brown omitted references to these deities. In addition, she taught the children to say "namaste, " which she interpreted to mean "respect."

District officials were pleased with the yoga program at Capri Elementary. Assistant superintendent David Miyashiro decided to attempt to secure additional funding from the Foundation in order to expand the yoga program to all of the District's schools.

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5. The 2012 grant proposal and memorandum of understanding

In July 2012, the District presented the Foundation with a grant proposal. The grant proposal contained an overview that stated in part: "The following puts into place a partnership between the... Foundation and the... District... to deliver a world class mind/body wellness program at all nine Encinitas elementary schools. The core foundation of this program will be built around providing students, staff, and families access to Ashtanga Yoga on a regular basis throughout the year."

The grant proposal further specified that "comprehensive yoga instruction" would be provided to all students, and that classes would be taught by "certified yoga instructors, selected and hired by District staff and trained by... Foundation teachers." The grant proposal also provided that the District would develop a yoga curriculum that would be "scalable and transferable to other settings." One aspect of the curriculum was to be instruction concerning "life skills built around key themes of yoga instruction such as self-discipline, balance, and responsibility."

The Foundation awarded the grant, and the Foundation and the District entered into a memorandum of understanding. The memorandum of understanding specified that the Foundation would award the District "$533, 720 for the implementation of a district-wide yoga program." The memorandum of understanding further stated, "as agreed upon by both parties and detailed within the approved grant... proposal, [the District] will provide the oversight for the implementation of a comprehensive yoga instruction for [Kindergarten through Sixth] grade students and the development of curriculum supporting yoga instruction with a focus on life skills."

The District also entered into an agreement with Regur Development Group, Inc. (Regur), to act as a personnel manager with respect to the grant, including formally hiring the yoga teachers and ...

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