Does Yoga Violate the Establishment Clause?

Here’s another item in the occasional series, “Does it violate the Establishment Ganesh with cupcakeClause?” whose last entry concerned werewolves and crusaders.  Given the state of Establishment Clause doctrine on this particular set of issues, I’m confident that I’ll be getting lots of material for it.

This story reports that the President (or those close to him, or something) really goes in for yoga, and so the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition is making a pro-yoga pitch, which included the introduction of a yoga garden during this year’s Easter Egg Hunt where one could receive yoga pedagogy.

But there is a problem.  Some believe that the official state promotion of yoga–in public school, for example–violates the Establishment Clause because it is tantamount to the government “picking religious winners and losers.”  The story reports:

[The lawyer representing objecting families] said many Americans who practice yoga want to be viewed as spiritual but not religious. However, claims that yoga is a mere physical exercise that doesn’t cross the line to Eastern religious beliefs and practices are dubious at best . . . . [Y]oga poses are worshipful acknowledgements of Hindu deities and have been shown to have a religiously transformative impact.

“Let’s be honest, if the White House was actively promoting a Christian-based exercise program, I am confident there would be a huge public outcry and they would change the program. But because yoga is based in Eastern mysticism, which is not well understood, many tend to try to disingenuously downplay its religious aspects[.]”

It’s hard to argue with the government’s response: whatever your religious beliefs, everybody benefits from “stretching, strength-building, and breathing.”  But the best line belongs to the judge assigned to hear the case, who is himself a devout yoga practitioner (or is that yogi?).  When questioned about his yoga activities, he is said to have responded: “Does anybody have a problem with that? . . . .If you think there’s something spiritual about what I do, that’s news to me.”

Easter Egg Hunt, take note.

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