A problem with the NCPL position might be that they are challenging a practice (a hands-over-head stretch) that isn’t religious in and of itself. The hands-over-head stretch only becomes religious in the context of a larger tradition. In this sense, stopping kids from yoga stretching because it is religious in some contexts makes about as much sense as banning kids from shaving their heads simply because it reminds you of Buddhism.
However, the organizational test raises more serious concerns in this case. Encinitas’ yoga program is partially funded by a grant from the Jois Foundation, which is contributing to teachers’ salaries, curriculum development, and even yoga mats. The Foundation is associated with the family of the late Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, a yoga teacher who popularized a form of yoga called Ashtanga. Mary Eady and the ADF claim that the Jois Foundation is a religious organization. The director of the Jois Foundation, Eugene Ruffin, says it is not.
“Our organization is made up primarily of people who are members of the Abrahamic faiths,” Ruffin told me. But consider the Jois Foundation’s relationship to the K. P. Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, an organization whose web page asserts that yoga practice helps to burn away the “six poisons” that surround the “spiritual heart.” Talk of “spiritual elevation” and “sacred beads” does not help the case that this is a non-religious group.
Ruffin insists the two organizations are legally separate, with distinct board memberships. But the Jois family is affiliated with both, and practitioners who have been affiliated with the Institute have also had a voice in the Foundation and its curriculum development. At least one major funding source for the Foundation (donors Sonia and Paul Tudor Jones) has also been involved with the Institute.
So let’s suppose that we are dealing with a group that is in some way tinged with religion. That in itself is not necessarily a deal-breaker: we wouldn’t turn away soup made for the school cafeteria, for example, just because it was made by Lutherans. In my view, the Organization Test really turns on two questions. First, is the program organized in such a way that it is accountable in a real and meaningful way to the school, and not the religious group? Second, does the partnership involve an entanglement between the school system and the religious group that could foreseeably involve state involvement in or endorsement of religion?
In the yoga case, both of these concerns have merit. In this particular instance, though, the Encinitas school district has an effective response to the first concern. The management and administration of the yoga program, the school insists, is internal. Assistant Superintendent Miyashiro, who has no connection with the Jois Foundation, sets the curriculum, helps choose the teachers, and monitors the results. He has the authority and the resources in place to manage the program and ensure that its content and execution it is answerable to the school. The school district has set up a line of accountability that is largely separate from the organization. Once the curriculum is developed, it will be public, rather than belonging to the Jois Foundation, and will be free for any public school to adopt.
The second line of concern is perhaps more difficult. The Jois Foundation has made it quite clear that it sees the program in Encinitas as a beachhead for the eventual development of a much larger program that would put yoga in schools across the country, potentially giving the Jois Foundation a broader influence on public education as a whole.