You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Suit says Cobb schools ‘capitulated’ to Christians in yoga flap


An assistant principal who says she introduced yoga into her Cobb County school to calm down disruptive students is claiming she was victimized by Christian parents who objected on religious grounds, and by a school district that “capitulated” to them.

The resulting federal lawsuit jabs a couple of hot-button issues in public education. Beyond the debate about yoga and religion, it raises the question of whether it’s bad for an educator’s career to be transferred to a “lower-performing” school.

Bonnie Cole, who is now the assistant principal at Mableton Elementary, asserts that it is and that the forced move from Bullard Elementary added 16 miles to her commute. She is seeking financial recompense for the resulting distress, inconvenience, income loss, “humiliation” and “indignities” and the effect on her career.

The lawsuit against the school district filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia says that yoga, as Cole introduced it, was not done as a religious practice and the school district was being hypocritical because during that period emails containing “Christian-based Daily Scripture Devotionals” were being sent to all staff.

District spokeswoman Donna Lowry said there would be no comment on pending litigation, and Cole’s attorney, Edward D. Buckley, did not return a call seeking comment.

You can read the original story about the parents concerns here.

Cole, who says she is a Christian, says school leaders and ultimately the school board buckled under pressure from parents who held a prayer rally at Bullard “for Jesus to rid the school of Buddhism.” The next day, two women put their hands on Cole’s office window and prayed.

“Not only was the capitulation and transfer a humiliating and public demonstration of the district’s lack of support of Ms. Cole, it made clear to the community that religious activities will be allowed as long as they are part of the “accepted” religion of Christianity,” her lawsuit says.

Cheryl Crawford, who runs a nonprofit that has introduced yoga into about 30 schools in metro Atlanta, said teachers want it because it calms disruptive students by teaching them to channel emotions like anger, fear and sadness. “Just telling them to focus doesn’t work. That’s pretty well-known now.”

Cobb has a history of controversy over religion in schools. In 2002, the district put a sticker on science textbooks that said evolution is “a theory, not a fact” and encouraged students to read with an open mind, “critically considered.”

Yoga has been controversial among conservative Christians. Albert Mohler, a former president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in 2010 that yoga is derived from Eastern religions and is not a Christian pathway to God. A lawsuit in southern California alleged that yoga in school violated the First Amendment ban on the government establishment of religion.

Cole’s lawsuit claims Cobb “engaged in the ‘de facto’ establishment” of the parents’ belief that yoga didn’t conform to their Christian beliefs, and violated the First Amendment by allowing Christianity on school grounds and in school emails.

Experts say the question of whether yoga is a religious practice that violates the constitution’s establishment clause is an exceedingly difficult one to answer.

“This is a hotly contested topic,” said Jonathan R. Herman, who teaches religion at Georgia State University. Yoga’s roots in Hinduism are typically stripped away in the practice of it today, he said. Instead, it’s often seen as spiritual but not religious, he said. “It’s a way of being religious in modern America while being ostensibly anti-religion.

It’s a slippery issue for academics, let alone the courts.

Another expert, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, who teaches at Indiana University at Bloomington about the intersection of religion and law, said “religion” itself is a debatable word in the context of the establishment clause.

The word “religion” is used as shorthand for a variety of ideas and practices, and academics and courts can legitimately disagree about whether something is, or isn’t, “religious,” she said.

“I think it’s a deeply unstable and unsettled concept.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Education

Morehouse College names interim president
Morehouse College names interim president

A Morehouse College graduate and recent board member was named its interim president, officials announced Monday afternoon. Harold Martin Jr. replaces William “Bill” Taggart, who died earlier this month from an aneurysm in his Atlanta home. Taggart, 55, became the Atlanta college’s interim president in April after the board...
Tax credits for private school scholarships OK, Georgia’s top court says
Tax credits for private school scholarships OK, Georgia’s top court says

A Georgia Supreme Court decision upholding state tax credits for private school scholarships has emboldened advocates for expanding the program, as teachers and education advocates lament the effect on public school budgets. The unanimous decision Monday ends uncertainty that has surrounded the program, which gives private schools money that otherwise...
Principal who turned around Atlanta-area schools named to state post
Principal who turned around Atlanta-area schools named to state post

An Atlanta high school principal has been selected to oversee the Georgia Department of Education’s school improvement work. Jackson High School principal Stephanie Johnson will serve as the state’s deputy superintendent for school improvement.  Johnson will focus on helping all schools, including low-performing campuses, improve....
Atlanta schools ethics commission to consider complaint against board member Leslie Grant
Atlanta schools ethics commission to consider complaint against board member Leslie Grant

The Atlanta school board’s ethics commission will meet Tuesday to consider a complaint eight board members filed against fellow board member Leslie Grant. The board members say Grant shared confidential information about a real estate deal with a potential buyer after being told that the information should be kept private. The ...
Georgia Supreme Court rules for tax credit scholarships
Georgia Supreme Court rules for tax credit scholarships

Georgia’s highest court has determined that a state law allowing taxpayers to steer some of what they owe the state to private schools instead does not violate the state constitution. The unanimous ruling Monday by the Georgia Supreme Court strikes a blow against the claim by Raymond Gaddy and other taxpayers that the state law establishing...
More Stories