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Legal Definition Of Religion

feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - We all know that the First Amendment protects our right to freedom of religion. But how do you define “religion”?

A school district in Encinitas, California, is facing a lawsuit that claims the school violates its students’ freedom of religion by offering yoga for gym class, which involves not just athletic poses but also breathing exercises and other stress management skills, which, according to the suit, unlawfully promotes and advances religion, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Western metaphysics.

But there’s no church of yoga, so how can it advance a religion?

Because while the First Amendment specifically says that the government may not establish religion, there is no definition of what is and what is not a religion. Instead, it’s been up to the courts to interpret it.

When the Supreme Court first tried to define religion in the 1860s, they said it involved the worship of God. But over time, the Court has revamped its definition, and has said that belief in God isn’t the hallmark of religious belief – it’s decided that secular humanism, pacifism and other beliefs that don’t involve a belief in God can still be constitutionally protected religious beliefs.

This lawsuit may make it to the Supreme Court for a better clarification of the definition of religion. Until then, we’ll just all have to breathe deeply and wait.

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