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.
Religious Right groups spend a lot of time beating on church-state separation. TV preacher Pat Robertson once called that constitutional principle “a lie of the left” and said it comes from the old Soviet Constitution.
Not to be outdone, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association asserted that Adolf Hitler invented church-state separation.
Others have been less hyperbolic but have still made it clear that they’re no fans of the handiwork of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Take Alan Sears, for example. Sears runs the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the nation’s largest Religious Right legal group. He once called the church-state wall “artificial.”
Funny, though, how that “artificial” wall that the Religious Right tells us over and over doesn’t exist and was never intended by the Founding Fathers can come in handy sometimes - like when the right wing wants to attack yoga in public schools.
In Encinitas, Calif., an attorney named Dean Broyles has filed suit against the Encinitas Union School District, asserting that a voluntary yoga program for students violates church-state separation. Broyles runs a small legal outfit called the National Center for Law and Policy, which, according to its website, defends “faith, family and freedom.”
Broyles is proud of his association with the ADF and notes that he “has received extensive training in pro-family, pro-life and pro-religious liberty matters at ADF’s outstanding National Litigation Academies (NLA). Because of Dean’s pro-bono work, he was invited to receive special training at ADF’s advanced NLA. Dean is proud to be an ADF affiliate attorney and member of ADF’s honor guard.”
Was Broyles asleep when Sears explained that separation of church and state doesn’t exist? How else can we explain his use of the principle in this lawsuit?
Or could it be that Broyles and the ADF are just being hypocritical? They have no use for separation of church and state when they’re trying to inject fundamentalist Christianity into the public schools. When that’s their game, they tell the courts, the media, and the American people that separation is not a valid legal principle. When they’re attacking what they perceive to be school promotion of a religion they don’t care for, suddenly the church-state wall is their best friend.
Broyles is arguing that the yoga program violates Article I, Section 4 of the California Constitution. That provision is longer than the federal constitution’s First Amendment but essentially provides for the same measure of church-state separation.
It reads in part, “Free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference are guaranteed…. The Legislature shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
In a press release, Broyles observes that the yoga program “represents a prime example of precisely why in America we wisely forbid the government from picking religious winners and losers, especially when you have a captive audience of very young and impressionable children as we do in our public schools.”
I agree wholeheartedly with that part about the dangers of the government picking religious winners and losers in public schools and the need to shield impressionable children from coerced religious activity. I just wish the ADF and its allies applied that standard to all religions.
I don’t know if Broyles has a case. A lot of people these days practice yoga for secular reasons - mainly as a relaxation and stress-reduction tool. But if Broyles can prove that the school’s use of it has a religious component or that it’s a feeder into a religious program, he deserves to win. The court has an obligation to consider the matter carefully.
I’m not bothered by the case. What bothers me is that the people behind it are raising church-state separation when they normally have no use for that concept. They seem to believe separation should be ignored when conservative Christians want to use public schools and other units of government to promote their faith but applied vigorously to every other religious group.
Sorry, guys, it doesn’t work that way. Separation of church and state is the best policy for all religions - and that includes the ones you like best.
A Jackson County jury awarded $108.6 million Friday to the parents of a Lee’s Summit woman who died in 2007 of infection after enduring weeks of no medical care following the home birth of a stillborn daughter.
The parents alleged that members of a religious group botched the delivery of their daughter’s child, used unsterilized household scissors in an attempt to deliver the infant and then kept their daughter from receiving medical attention for a month.
The child, Sydney, died Dec. 6, 2006.
Misty Mansfield — the daughter of plaintiffs Gail and Darrell Mansfield of Kingsville, Mo. — died 31 days later.
Danny Thomas, who represented the Mansfields, said Misty Mansfield had been “vindicated” after the jury found the defendants, including brothers John and Caleb Horner, a former Lee’s Summit police officer, liable after deliberating for two hours in the Jackson County Courthouse.
In his closing arguments, Thomas described the defendants as cult leaders who had isolated and brainwashed their followers, including Misty Mansfield.
“Now the Horners and every other cult like them will get the message that they cannot hide behind the cross or religious freedom when they brainwash and manipulate,” Thomas said after the verdict was announced.
Dettelbach says the application of hate crime law to this case may be untested, but it springs from a very basic American value.
“This country has been founded on a principle that what doesn’t happen is that you don’t get a knock on your door in the middle of the night and a bunch of people seeking to attack you because of where you pray, how you pray and who you want to pray to,” he says.
And praying is a key issue here. Another question hanging over this trial is whether the hate crime statute can be used in a case where both sides are members of the same religious group.
Evidence that the hate bloggers and activists are having an impact among conservatives and the elderly.
A new JZ Analytics poll reveals that Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans and American Muslims have the highest overall unfavourable ratings of all the ethnic and religious groups covered in the survey. The poll, conducted for the Arab American Institute, found that while more than seven in 10 US voters had favourable attitudes toward the main Protestant denominations, Catholics and Jews, less than five in 10 were positively inclined towards Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans and American Muslims. In fact, Muslims were the only religious group to receive a net unfavourable rating, with a score of 40 per cent favourable to 41 per cent unfavourable.
Underlying these ratings is a deep partisan divide regarding attitudes of voters toward Arabs and Muslims. For example, Americans who say they intend to vote for President Barack Obama give Arabs a 51 per cent favourable / 29 per cent unfavourable rating, and Muslims a 53 per cent / 29 per cent rating. Those who say they will vote for Mitt Romney give Arabs and Muslims ratings of 30 per cent / 50 per cent and 25 per cent / 57 per cent respectively.
On closer examination, this partisan divide is grounded in a generational and racial divide. Younger voters from the ages of 18 to 29 give Arabs and Muslims 50 per cent / 34 per cent favourable / unfavourable rating and Muslims a 53 / 34 rating. On the other hand, older voters over 65 give Arabs and Muslims much lower 26 / 39 and 30 / 48 ratings, respectively
What’s (Still) the Matter With Kansas?: ‘Revival Workshop’ at Statehouse Shows Ongoing Church-State Problems
The Brownback pack is at it again.
Author Thomas Frank once asked: “What’s the matter with Kansas?” It seems at least part of the answer is the state’s growing disregard for church-state separation.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that a three-day “transforming revival” workshop that had been scheduled to take place in the main chamber of the Kansas House of Representatives will be moved to another venue thanks to scrutiny from Americans United and the news media.
The AP said that event organizer Dave DePue, who works for Capitol Commission, a Raleigh, N.C., nonprofit that places clergy in statehouses to advise lawmakers, claimed the workshop didn’t have a political agenda and is intended to help church leaders learn how to bolster work in their communities.
But AU and the news media had raised questions about the event because its organizers described it as a “beginner’s course” for Christians seeking to lead spiritual revivals in their communities, the AP reported. DePue also told the AP that Gov. Sam Brownback (R) was scheduled to greet the workshop participants.
The event, put on by the Lynnwood, Wash.-based Sentinel Group, even had a sponsor in House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid (R-Olathe). He seems to like sponsoring this sort of thing, having tried unsuccessfully this year to put aside a designated space in the statehouse for prayer.
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn expressed shock when informed of the details of the workshop.
“This is almost like turning the seat of government over temporarily to a religious group,” he told the AP. “It’s startling to me to even hear about it.”
The statehouse should be devoted purely to public business, not to meetings of fundamentalist Christian revival groups. No matter how anyone tries to spin this, there is a clear entangling of government with religion.
We’re glad the workshop has been moved, but the fight isn’t over because there is a trend in Kansas of either ignoring church-state separation or going so far as to treat the concept with hostility.
Brownback, in particular, has been a staunch ally of the Religious Right. He was the only governor to attend Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Christians-only prayer rally in Texas last summer, and he frequently pushes “faith-based” programs and has signed bills restricting abortion rights. If he gets his way, it will even be legal in Kansas to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons - as long as you do it in the name of religion.
And that’s just some of his recent activities. Back in 2006, Brownback supported the failed Public Expression of Religion Act, which would have made it more difficult for citizens to challenge church-state violations.
Meanwhile, Kansas lawmakers also passed a measure this year intended to ban shariah - Islamic law - despite the fact that there has never been a credible threat from Islam to the state’s legal system.
We may not know, what, exactly is the matter with Kansas. But we do know this: the state is headed in the wrong direction on church-state issues, and Americans United is not afraid to speak up.
If we see something, we will say something.
Something’s gone terribly wrong.
In August 2007 the New York Police Department released a report called “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” claiming that the looming danger to the United States was from “unremarkable” Muslim men under 35 who visit “extremist incubators.” The language sounds ominous, conjuring up Clockwork Orange-style laboratories of human reprogramming, twisting average Muslims into instruments of evil. And yet what are these “incubators”? The report states that they are mosques, “cafes, cab driver hangouts, flophouses, prisons, student associations, non-governmental organizations, hookah (water pipe) bars, butcher shops and book stores”—in other words, precisely the places where ordinary life happens.
But the report wasn’t based on any independent social science research, and actual studies clearly refuted the very claims made by the NYPD. The Rand Corporation found that the number of homegrown radicals here is “tiny.” “There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United States, and few more than 100 have joined jihad—about one out of every 30,000—suggesting an American Muslim population that remains hostile to jihadist ideology and its exhortations to violence,” Rand’s 2010 report found. “A mistrust of American Muslims by other Americans seems misplaced,” it concluded. This year, an analysis by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security also described the number of American Muslims involved in domestic terrorism since 2001 as “tiny.” “This study’s findings challenge Americans to be vigilant against the threat of homegrown terrorism while maintaining a responsible sense of proportion,” it said. And a 2011 Gallup survey found that American Muslims were the least likely of any major US religious group to consider attacks on civilians justified.
Every group has its loonies. And yet the idea that American Muslim communities are foul nests of hatred, where dark-skinned men plot Arabic violence while combing one another’s beards, persists. In fact, it’s worse than that. In the past few years, another narrative about American Muslims has come along, which sows a different kind of paranoia. While the old story revolves around security, portraying American Muslims as potential terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, the new narrative operates more along the axis of culture. Simple acts of religious or cultural expression and the straightforward activities of Muslim daily life have become suspicious. Building a mosque in Lower Manhattan or in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, or in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, becomes an act of “stealth jihad.” Muslims filing for divorce invokes the bizarre charge of “creeping Sharia.”