Californian Catholics against teaching of meditation in public schools

California Catholic Daily, August 6, 2007

While school prayer is prohibited, student "meditation" appears to be a growing practice

Oakland, CA (USA) -- At Oakland’s Emerson Elementary School, students may not be able to say a public “Our Father,” but they can publicly practice “mindfulness” techniques, adapted from Buddhism, in which “the children learn to follow their breath, watch their thoughts and focus their attention by listening to the tone of a Tibetan singing bowl until the sound is too faint to hear,” reported the July 27 Oakland Tribune.

Emerson Elementary, however, has but one of many such mindfulness programs, the number of which have grown nationwide to more than 100.

One organization that is encouraging schools to adopt meditation practices for students is the Hollywood-based David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. The Lynch Foundation promotes Transcendental Meditation, which David Lynch calls a technique for “diving within.” In a message on the Foundation’s web site, Lynch holds out the hope that “someday, hopefully very soon, ‘diving within’ as a preparation for learning and as a tool for developing the creative potential of the mind will be a standard part of every school’s curriculum.”

Children, says Lynch, experience the stress of the world, and, he notes, “there are hundreds of schools, with thousands of students, who are eager to relieve this stress and bring out the full potential of every student by providing this Consciousness-Based education today.” According to the Tribune, the Foundation sponsors start-up programs for Transcendental Meditation at a school in Inglewood and another in Sun Valley. Both schools are publicly-funded.

Meditation practices in public schools have not escaped the vigilance of church-state separationists. In fact, said Edward Tabash, chairman of the national legal committee for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the issue could inspire “a coalition between religious fundamentalists and atheists” to fight it.

“It’s not the business of schools to lead kids to inner peace through a spiritual process,” said Tabash, who says he is a secular humanist.

Last October, the David Lynch Foundation withdrew a $175,000 pledge to Terra Linda High School in San Rafael that would have allowed 250 students and 25 staffers to practice Transcendental Meditation. Many parents, however, protested, and the Pacific Justice Institute, a religious civil rights group, threatened to sue the school for violating church-state separation. Though its defenders said the meditation would have been under the auspices of a club, and would thus be permitted under California law, Pacific Justice’s Kevin Snider told the Associated Press, “If it’s religious in nature and it involves faculty, then you would have a problem.”

Proponents of school-based meditation, however, claim that meditation techniques can be separated from Buddhism or Hinduism and so are not in themselves religious. “What’s religious about learning to follow your breath?” said Emerson Elementary principle Wendi Caporicci, whom the Tribune called “a devout Catholic.”