Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Real Trojan Horse in Encinitas Isn't Hinduism - It's Christian Extremism

In my previous post on the recently filed lawsuit to prohibit yoga classes in the Encinitas public schools, I promised this one would elaborate a reasonable counter-position. I'm sorry to report, however, that this project - which I still want to do! - is being put off once again. Because once I started digging a little deeper into what's behind this National Center for Law and Policy lawsuit, I got hit by a stunning avalanche of information.

Before launching into what I discovered about the backstory behind the Encinitas case, however, I want to just note that it's remarkably ironic that the expert witness for the prosecution, Dr. Candy Gunther Brown, closed her 36-page brief with a dark warning that:
A pattern that I have observed in my long-term research on yoga, meditation, and other forms of CAM is that participation in spiritually-premised practices—even when marketed as “secular” and stripped of religious language—leads practitioners to change their religious views.

Because this process often occurs gradually, individuals may not even recognize that it is taking place or consciously choose to change their religious beliefs
In other words: don't imagine for a split second that you can justify yoga in schools on the grounds that it's good for kids' health! No, pretty much every form of complementary and alternative medicine, or "CAM," is a veritable Trojan Horse, sneaking in spiritually damaging views that undermine Americans' religious beliefs - whether they know it or not!

Talk about a slippery slope argument! How, I wondered, did she get from critiquing the Jois Foundation in particular to this sweeping denunciation of everything connected with yoga, meditation, and alternative medicine in general? It seemed odd. 

A little more research, however, revealed a right-wing religious culture that would very much support such assertions. Which suggests that if you thought this case was simply a matter of few religiously conservative parents with some legit worries about their kids taking yoga classes in school - it's time to think again.

Of course, some parents no doubt do feel deeply concerned about their kids taking yoga, and that should be respected - up to a point. Because legally, politically, and culturally, that's really not even the tip of the iceberg.

Litigating Against "the Lie"

Here's how NPR described Encinitas parents Mary Eady's involvement in the yoga controversy: 
Encinitas Superintendent Tim Baird says yoga is just one element of the district's physical education curriculum . . . But when Mary Eady visited one of the yoga classes at her son's school last year, she saw much more than a fitness program.
"They were being taught to thank the sun for their lives and the warmth that it brought, the life that it brought to the earth and they were told to do that right before they did their sun salutation exercises," she says.

Those looked like religious teachings to her, so she opted to keep her son out of the classes. The more Eady reads about the Jois Foundation and its founders' beliefs in the spiritual benefits of Ashtanga yoga, the more she's convinced that the poses and meditation can't be separated from their Hindu roots . . .

Eady is part of a group of parents working with Dean Broyles, president and chief counsel of the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy.
 OK, so Ms. Eady grew concerned and took action. Fair enough, right? Well - it's not really that simple. 

Yesterday, Alternet posted an excellent piece of investigative journalism,  explaining among other things that "Mary Eady, one of the parents organizing against Encinitas’ yoga program . . . works at a Christian organization called truthxchange." 

And what, you may ask, is truthxchange?

I checked it out. As it turns out, Ms. Eady is one of four staff members of this group, which describes itself as an activist "ministry" organization. 

The site goes on to explain that the group was formed in 2003 under the name, "Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet," or CWiPP. Later, it "changed its name to truthXchange" and instituted "a new emphasis on reaching college and university students."

Here's how truthxchange describes its current "Vision":
Our Purpose: For God’s glory, truthXchange exists to equip the Christian community in general and its leaders in particular to recognize and effectively respond to the rising tide of neopaganism.
Our Passion: truthXchange desires to be a global communication center that broadcasts a gospel-driven worldview response to pagan spirituality as well as recruiting, equipping, and mobilizing a network of fearless Christian leaders.
 Our Plans: To train a new generation of scholars and leaders to understand and inform the Church of the challenge of global paganism . . . To engage in “antithesis” apologetics, or, as the apostle Paul says, to clarify the Truth by understanding and explaining the Lie.
Want to learn more about truthxchange's crusade for "the Truth" and against "the Lie"? Check out their 8-minute video, "Only Two Religions," which is posted both on their website and vimeo. In it, you can hear Executive Director Peter Jones explain their philosophy of "One-ism and Two-ism," which, as you might expect, boils down to an insistence that their understanding of Christianity is the one true religion, and everything else is horribly wrong.

"Spreading the Gospel by Transforming the Legal System"

NPR reported simply that "Eady is part of a group of parents working with Dean Broyles," President of the NCLP. But let's learn a little more about Mr. Broyles and the organization he leads. 

According to its website, the NCLP is a non-profit "legal defense organization which focuses on the protection and promotion of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, parental rights, and other civil liberties." They proudly assert a position of militant Christian nationalism:
Our nations’ founders believed that our rights and liberties are not manufactured by men, but are established by our Creator . . . 'It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1.'
But even though it is a natural right, freedom does not just “happen” by default. Throughout recorded history, liberty must be esteemed, fought for, established, and guarded if is to survive and flourish.
Today is no different. Indeed, the enemies of freedom have multiplied, and with them, we have clearly witnessed a mounting number of assaults on faith, family and freedom. Our attorneys stand ready, willing, and able to defend freedom against its enemies . . . We are motivated in our endeavors by our faith to keep the doors open for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, let's learn a little more about the lead attorney in the Encinitas case.

As explained on the NCLP website, Mr. Boyles "clerked for several years at the National Legal Foundation, a religious liberty non-profit organization." After graduating from law school, "he was invited to become an affiliate attorney of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), from which Dean 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.
And what, you may wonder, is the ADF?
Recently renamed the Alliance Defending Freedom, the ADF website describes the organization as "a servant ministry building an alliance to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family":
Recognizing the need for a strong, coordinated legal defense against growing attacks on religious freedom, more than 30 prominent Christian leaders launched Alliance Defending Freedom in 1994. Over the past 18 years, this unique legal ministry has brought together thousands of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations that work tirelessly to advocate for the right of people to freely live out their faith in America and around the world.
Thanks be to God, Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies have won 8 out of every 10 cases litigated to conclusion, including 38 precedent-setting victories at the U.S. Supreme Court and hundreds more in the lower courts.

Right-Wing Watch explains that the ADF "sees itself as a counter to the ACLU." They are well-financed, highly networked, strongly anti-gay and anti-abortion, and quite powerful. 
Unique to the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is their collective of high-powered founders, including wealthy right-wing organizations such as Dobson's Focus on the Family and D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries.

The ADF embodies the beliefs of its founders, harnessing the efforts of a cadre of right-wing groups with hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal. All of these groups are influential members of the Right; they are pro-life and anti-gay, and their ultimate goal is to see the law and U.S. government enshrined with conservative Christian principles.

The relationship between ADF and it's founders is one of mutual self-interest; ADF has access to the resources and networking of large organizations, who in turn are equipped with an endless supply of readily-available lawyers.
ADF's strength goes beyond their budget due to their influence with well-funded religious-right groups.

Two issues common to each of ADF's founders are their work against the right to abortion, and against the civil rights/liberties of gays and lesbians. They are particularly persistent in attacking attempts by homosexuals to have families, establish domestic partnerships or civil unions, or to be protected from discrimination in employment or housing.
On its website, the ADF lists its official "Allies" as including 13 legal groups, 10 advocacy organizations, 8 "educational" institiutions, and 8 "ministries." Many of these organizations are extremely powerful in their own right. Considered as a tight network of right-wing activists with deep pockets and literally missionary zeal, the forces lined up against the Jois Foundation's yoga program are formidable indeed. 

In this context, the Jois grant of $550,000 to fund the yoga program in the Encinitas school, while huge in the yoga world, seems laughably small. True, it was big enough to put them into the NCLP/ADF/truthxchange crosshairs. I wonder if they realize, however, just how many soldiers are contained in that battleship of a conservative Christian Trojan Horse. 

Note: My next post will (hopefully) deliver on my pro-yoga in public schools argument as promised.


  1. Amazing what even a short bit digging around will turn up! So...never mind the religious/spiritual divide, what's at issue here is the perceived "real" enemy: neo-paganism, of which yoga is one small part. So in a sense, the Encinitas parents are merely volunteers in a mostly-unseen "larger cause", just like Shelby County (Alabama) is in appealing Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to the Supreme Court.

    The multiple layers of well-funded ideologically-driven entities involved here remind me of the avalanche of SuperPacs that appeared once Citizens United became the law. And with the ultimate goal of legislating right-wing religious values into the largest possible swath of the social fabric, I fail to see much of a difference between that and Muslim super-fundamentalists who would impose Sharia law in their governments. Or ulta-Orthodox Jews in Israel with their extreme views.

    Pseudo-theocracy, anyone? The American approach is to keep a low-profile, but well-funded and well-organized behind-the-scenes drip-drip-drip battle plan until the ground beneath our feet has permanently shifted. And when it finally gets noticed generally, it's already kind of late in the game.

    So the fight against teaching asana in public schools is indeed a smallish battle in a much larger war: Krishna vs. Goliath (so to speak)...

    1. I agree. I also found it disturbing that even the foremost bastions of the "liberal media," NPR and the NYTs, didn't report *at all* on the backstory here. Surely the fact that the lead parent whose complaints have been broadcast repeatedly is employed as an "anti-pagan activist" is newsworthy? It's very misleading to present her as simply a random concerned parent. Even basic investigative reporting gets marginalized to the alternative press.

      And of course, yoga in schools is a very minor issue compared to all the analogous cases out there (climate change deniers, fiscal cliff chargers, etc.) - disturbing and discouraging.

  2. Most Christians are probably broad-minded and pluralistic in outlook. A small ill-informed minority apparently believe that Yoga = Hinduism = Paganism = Satanism. In truth, none of these words are synonyms.

    Let's not forget that there have been many Christian churches which have opened their doors to teachers of Yoga and/or Hinduism, and shown good will, genuine interest, and an ecumenical spirit.

    When people in the Yoga community feel they're under attack from a seemingly powerful and well-funded "enemy," this naturally creates a rajasic quality in the mind (if not in the gut). I feel it too. However, a very wise Unitarian Universalist named Melissa recently tweeted "We must not allow ourselves to become like the system we oppose. - Bishop Desmond Tutu"

    Of course, merely calling attention to an injustice is not the same as perpetrating one. Still, I think the Yoga community should be careful not to demonize the people doing the attacking, nor necessarily be eager to engage them in hand-to-hand combat.

    Yoga and/or Hinduism have often flourished by quietly teaching and practising, and by spreading their message to those who were sympathetic and ready to hear it, while working around the intolerant and xenophobic.

    While one should not underestimate the power of right-wing money PACs, neither should one overestimate it. In the last election cycle they spent untold millions, yet generally failed to get their backward-looking candidates elected.

    As Americans, we are a very practical people. If something works well, we embrace it. Yoga works well, whether used for simple exercise, or as a spiritual practice. It is therefore in no danger of disappearing.

    Yoga in the schools is an issue that will often be decided at the local level. Some progressive communities don't mind a little bit of Yoga in their public schools, especially if the kids like it and it makes them healthier, happier, and mentally sharper.

    Working with local school boards to develop programs which are fully compatible with their needs and goals is the way to go, even if there are occasional problems like the Encinitas lawsuit.

    There are no perfect solutions, but in some cases it might be advisable to create a program such as "Adaptive Postures And Breathing For Health" which does not use the word Yoga and in fact is not really Yoga, since literally everything religious, spiritual, metaphysical, or Hindu has been stripped out of it.

    One of the underlying issues is intolerance rooted in ignorance. A sub-goal of those who want to be able to teach Yoga in the schools should therefore be to lobby for more courses in comparative religion. One excellent textbook already in use in the schools is Living Religions by Mary Pat Fisher:

    She actually lives in a unique interfaith community in India, and is very sympathetic towards Yoga and Hinduism based on her own experiences. Sow the seeds of tolerance today, and tomorrow it will be easier to teach basic physical Yoga in the schools.

    Michael from World Harmony Mix

    1. Michael - I think that you are right that the yoga in schools issue is not ultimately so dire (although, of course, we have no way of knowing what the various long-term ripple effects may be). As noted in the comment above, however, this issue is just the tip of a much larger iceberg. And in that sense, I think you are too sanguine about these right-wing activist networks.

      Yes, the last election was a surprise (and from my perspective, a happy one). However, the right-wing agenda has had a huge impact when it comes to the undercutting of the middle class and growing extremes of wealth and poverty in the U.S., among other issues. The Encinitas case is a microcosm of a much larger and much more disturbing pattern.

      And while I agree with your cautions against demonizing one's opponents, when it comes to the American yoga community, I'm frankly much more concerned about the tendency toward elite cultural escapism and social/political disengagement. For example, I heard from many quarters that Off the Mat received a lot of negative pushback simply for advocating voting in the last election. And this with absolutely no partisan positions taken at all: simply encouraging people to vote was widely seen as objectionably "un-yogic." I find this problematic, to say the least.

  3. Michael makes good points, but there is often a fine line between being patient, and treating the ignorant with compassion and understanding, and being complacent. Duplicity needs to be exposed, and falsehoods need to be exposed. I think Carol is doing that. Here is some good reporting on the hypocrisy of those behind the Encinitas campaign: They like church-state separation except when they don't. Religion Dispatches is a highly respected publication that most media outlets subscribe to. One can only hope reporters will pick up on this piece.
    Phil Goldberg

    1. Thanks, Phil. (BTW, to those who don't recognize the name, Phil is the author of "American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West" - a book that is, I think, highly relevant to the issues at hand!)

      The link you provided is that same article that I saw on Alternet and linked to above - in fact, checking out their facts is what led to this post. So, it would seem that at least so far, the story has been picked up only by the alternative media. I hope that this changes as it's certainly a legitimate part of the story to provide context as to who the main players are and how this case links to their larger advocacy work.

    2. Dear Carol and Phil,

      I'll save my "I'm not complacent" spiel for another time. :-)

      Before deciding on an individual or collective basis how to respond to the Encinitas lawsuit, it may be helpful to read the entire Complaint, including the referenced Exhibits, which allege to include copies of the Grant Proposal and Memorandum Of Understanding between the Jois Foundation and the Encinitas Union School District which formed the basis for the subsequent Yoga program.

      The reason this may be important is that if the Proposal and MOU say what the suing party claims, then this case may resemble Malnak v. Yogi to such an extent that it would be difficult to defend. OTOH, if the exhibits do not bear out the claims made by the suing party, that would be something worth bringing to public light.

      The free version of the Complaint is 37 or 38 pages, and lacks the Exhibits. The full Complaint with Exhibits is 186 pages, and costs slightly under $20 from the San Diego Court web site. The Complaint may be identified as follows:

      Sedlock v. Baird
      California State Court
      San Diego
      Civil Case Number:
      ROA# 1 - Complaint
      Entered 02/20/2013

      Start here:

      Accept the terms and go through the captcha.

      In the default search box enter only this portion of the case #:


      and hit enter.

      On the next screen, scroll down to the bottom to the item numbered 1 and labeled Complaint. Click on Add To Cart.

      Then scroll back to the top and choose View Shopping Cart.

      Verify that what's in your cart is 186 pages and costs $19.82

      Proceed to checkout and pay with Visa or Mastercard.

      Download the PDF.

      I'm not an attorney, but my understanding is that court filings are public and non-copyrighted. Therefore, once one person has the 186-page PDF, they should be able to upload it to or elsewhere, where other people could read and/or download it at their leisure.

      Michael from World Harmony Mix

    3. Thanks, Michael, for linking to such a great resource. I think that you're right; we don't have enough information yet to be able to make an informed judgement about whether there is a larger agenda at play in this case or not. Obviously, I have my suspicions, but perhaps I am extrapolating from past patterns that do not necessarily fit the specifics here.

    4. Follow up: Between my curiosity and sense of obligation to take research seriously, I ponied up the $20 and downloaded the document as you suggested. Unfortunately, there is nothing new there - all the pertinent documents are already available online.

      Having reviewed them, I think that a fair reading is that the goal of the suit is to prohibit the Jois Yoga program specifically, but ideally using a rationale that would undercut ALL yoga in public schools generally. This is clear given the insistence in Prof. Brown's brief, which is repeated in shorter form in the case filing, that "even 'secularized' yoga promotes Hinduism and related religions." The most common arguments made to support yoga is public school settings (the religious elements can be removed, science shows that it works to improve health, etc.) are dismissed in general, rather than specific terms. In other words, the logical conclusion is not simply that this particular yoga program is problematic, but that ALL yoga programs are problematic.

      This reading is certainly supported by the religious commitments of truthxchange, which I copied directly from their website and are posted above.

      Also, the pattern of having religiously-driven litigation to enact cultural change by the same organizations supporting this case is undeniable and long-standing. They themselves openly state that this is what they are doing and that they've enjoyed much success.

      These campaigns can unfold over decades if the vision and will exists to do so. Certainly, the funding and organizational apparatus, as well as a network of friendly judges and lawyers, is firmly in place.

      Of course, I can't say whether there is a determination to continue on with cases designed to roll back yoga in schools and other publicly funded institutions or not. I can say, however, that all of the evidence shows that ending yoga in schools completely, rather than only in this particular case, would be a favored outcome by those who filed this lawsuit.

  4. Carol,

    Nice reporting. It's interesting. I thought the organized extremists were more Orange County than San Diego county but leave it to yoga to expose our issues. :)

    I guess the only thing one can do at this point is prove that yoga is not a religion or take on the bigger job of proving that there is a place for children to explore all religious teachings in public school.

    I guess a non-religious yoga means the exclusion of the Bhagavad Gita and all but three limbs (asana,pranayama,dharana) out of the eight but as you've pointed out, the children will benefit greatly from these three alone.They can go further on their own after that. But then these parents are afraid of that. And if they point to the Gita.....

    I look forward to your proof that yoga is not a religion.

    RESPECT, Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary - Thanks for comment. Personally, I do feel that linking yoga to the Bhagavad-Gita in a public school context would be appropriate. While I find it hard to believe that this lawsuit is not part of a larger agenda, I nonetheless think that it raises legitimate issues. From what I've read, it could very well be true that the Jois program was poorly conceived in certain respects and in need of tweaking. It's an interesting question as to what might constitute general guidelines for a thoroughly non-religious yoga class.

      I look forward to your thoughts on my coming attempt to do just this - no doubt whatever I can manage will require much tweaking of its own.

  5. Thanks for another excellent article, Carol.


  6. (Since you brought up the Bhagavad Gita in the schools, just posted this on facebook:)

    Today Jane and I snorkeled at Waterlemon Cay on St. John and saw many things, including sea turtles, a nurse shark, and coral forests. A couple of years ago I wrote the following poem. The angelfish I saw today looked exactly like this one. I was literally swimming through my poem: Bhagavad Gita for a Fish

    I have even been thinking of turning this into an illustrated book for kids. This is what yoga and the Bhagavad Gita mean to me. Is this religion?


    1. Just don't try to have kids read your "Gita for a Fish" book in school! (just joking . . . maybe? :)

  7. Hi! I'm wondering if you've tapped Fr. Gregory D'Souza, OCDS with regards to yoga and its relation to Christian (Carmelite/Catholic) Mysticism, of which he wrote several books and theses. It would just be interesting what his views are on this case are, given his unique background. His website has his contact info:


    1. Hi Sanya: No, I haven't been aware of his work - thanks so much for the reference. I will check it out.

    2. You're very welcome! :D -sanya

  8. The Trojan horse is modern so-called "yoga." Spurious yoga has duped people into thinking that yoga is everything but what it is--Hinduism. The facts are that real Yoga is Hinduism; taught by Hindus to anyone who wants to learn.

    Swami Param
    Classical Yoga Hindu Academy