Public schools in several states have started down a slippery slope by incorporating Buddhist meditation practices in the classroom, and the ACLJ is challenging this threat to the religious liberty rights of public school children.
Imagine your elementary school child coming home one night and explaining the actions that their teacher asked them to do that day—to close their eyes and obey an audio recording that tells them to clear their minds, to watch their memories and emotions float away on clouds, and to feel the love and warmth from their connection to the universe. How would you react if this same audio recording is telling your child to look inside themselves to reach inner-goodness and peace? Imagine that day after day, your child is subjected to 15-minute “Mindfulness” sessions that are similar to anciently established Buddhist and Hindu practices.
Going a step further, imagine that the only opt-out resolution the school offers is to place your child in the hallway unattended until the mindfulness session has finished. This is the new reality for parents across the country in 2018. The ACLJ is already working to protect your child from the unconstitutional religious influence of state-funded schools.
On November 29th, the ACLJ attended a Colorado public school’s board meeting to address an Establishment Clause violation: instituting a Buddhist mindfulness platform, called Inner Explorer, in each of its elementary school classrooms. On behalf of our parent-clients, the ACLJ argued that the school was in violation of the Constitution because Inner Explorer’s audio guide practices that equate to Buddhism.
Inner Explorer coaches students through several Buddhist principles, as defined by the United Nations. For example, the practice of Prajna is to foster “discernment, insight, wisdom, enlightenment. This is the real heart of Buddhism. Wisdom will emerge if your mind is pure and calm.” Within Inner Explorer, children are told to walk through a similar practice:
Each time you pay attention as you breathe in and out, your thoughts pass, you can start to feel calmer and maybe even clearer, learning more about your inner world and becoming aware slowly of what is underneath all your thoughts. Noticing parts of you may be hidden beneath all those thoughts . . . Your goodness, maybe even your magnificence. It’s all there. Being inward can help you be the best you.
Furthermore, Inner Explorer is centered around the Buddhist principle of Bhava-chakra, or the realms of reincarnation within the universe. The idea of connecting to the universe is explained as a way for children to feel love and peace within themselves:
And recognizing that we’re all connected. We’re all connected through nature. And we’re all connected through the universe. Imagining through our connection there’s a feeling of love. And imagining that through our connecting there’s a happy place. And imagining through our connection there’s a feeling of peace. You may be imagining that all of nature and all of the universe is sending out feelings of love and feelings of happiness and feelings of peace.
Buddhist principles like these are threaded throughout all of the Inner Explorer audio guides.
Generally, any involvement at all by public school officials in religious activity during the school day is unconstitutional under Establishment Clause jurisprudence. School officials violate the Establishment Clause if an “objective observer” would perceive the activity or instruction as a state endorsement of religious belief. Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 308 (2000).
Reflecting its heightened concern that school children be shielded from religious indoctrination by school authorities, the Court has stated:
The Court has been particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause in elementary and secondary schools. Families entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family. Students in such institutions are impressionable and their attendance is involuntary.
Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 583–84 (1987). The Tenth Circuit, which includes Colorado, declared that the state is “constitutionally required to see that state-supported activity is not used for religious indoctrination.” Roberts v. Madigan, 921 F.2d 1047, 1054 (10th Cir. 1990).
By allowing inherently religious programs, like Inner Explorer, into the classroom, public schools are promoting a religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Parents need to be assured that they can trust public school systems to properly educate their children, not indoctrinate them. Ultimately, the ACLJ will not stand for education programs that infringe upon the constitutional rights of students through the endorsement of Buddhist religious practices. We will keep you updated on our work within Colorado as the case progresses.
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