Californians in the Encinitas Union School District recently attempted to ban yoga from physical education (PE) in public schools because of its religious origin. It sounds silly, but keeping religion out of the classroom has become an increasingly valued part of upholding religious freedom in Americans schools.
Here in America
Often when religion makes an appearance in the public sphere and becomes embroiled in legal difficulties we expect to find the ACLU and people who are considered to be ‘angry, politically correct atheists‘ behind it. That is not the case here though. See, there is a major difference between teaching yoga and using the bible as a history book. Yoga, as practiced in a PE class in school, does not come with any religious teachings or spirituality attached.
So, who hates religion enough that everything it becomes associated with needs to be beaten to death with the separation clause? Well, other religions apparently. It isn’t that they fear that there might be religious influence on their children in schools, as we’ve come to expect from such court cases. One mother involved in the yoga case complained that, “We will have a society very soon where Christians will be the weirdest people…They will just be touted as crazy.” According to her, the judge’s decision to keep the half million dollar yoga program displayed an anti-Christian bias.
Somehow though, we don’t see these same people suing the district when their children are forced to sing about Jesus in their school choir. The fear here is very much that children may come into contact with a notion that their parents did not place into their crib. It’s “stranger danger” on crack.
The American political system did its job exactly as it should in refusing to ban yoga on the basis of paranoia.
That said, we aren’t alone in the world in attempting to abort opposing religious views where they barely exist.
In the World
In Moscow, earlier this month, Russian Orthodox Christians made a similar move against a religion that is also too obscure to be a threat to their establishment. A Scientology center built a little too close to their convent made a stir, and protesters gathered to demand legislation to ban Scientologist influence in schools.
Their totalitarian perspective can really make you appreciate living in America. Valentin Lebedev, one of the organizers of the event, stated,“…anyone who cares about the survival of Russia must join the body of the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Of course we’re used to that kind of talk from Russia. You might be more surprised to learn that Switzerland also made the news recently. Scientologists have been expanding into Europe aggressively recently under their CEO, David Miscavige.
This has garnered some negative attention from Europeans. Swiss officials pulled a DVD “The History of Human Rights” from their history curriculum at the end of June. It’s not because there was religious content in the DVD, but because it was produced by Jugend für Menschenrechte (Youth for Human Rights), a group that has ties to Scientology. You see, human rights education can’t be a good idea if a Scientologist paid for it.
According to the Swiss officials such materials are dangerous because they could cause students to become interested in human rights activism through Youth for Human Rights, and come into contact with Scientologists.
Fear of allowing children to come into contact with the “other” seems to drive political action. It can make people go on the offensive in situations that can be quite strange to the outside observer. They see it as some sort of contagion.
Students cannot catch an Eastern religion from yoga like a disease, and they can’t catch Scientology from watching a DVD on human rights. It would probably be best if everyone would just slowly put down the pitchforks.
Brian Schmied is an enthusiastic fan of religion, politics, and religious politics. He enjoys reading and writing about issues of human nature, rationality, and irrationality, which determine the destiny of our species and the freedom we have in our everyday lives.