Hindu Council Attacks 'Illegal' Church Ban on Yoga

The Hindu Council UK (HCUK), the largest national network of Hindu organisations within the UK, is considering whether a ban on yoga classes at St James' Church and the Silver Street Baptist Church in Taunton, Somerset, may breach the Equality Act 2006.

Lawyers for HCUK are exploring whether comments made by both The Reverend Tim Jones, Vicar of St James' and The Reverend Simon Farrar of the Silver Street Baptist Church that yoga is a "sham", a "false philosophy" and "unchristian" may indicate they have acted contrary to the 'Religion and Belief' section of the Act, specifically those parts relating to discrimination in providing goods, facilities and services.

HCUK is also considering whether to ask the Commission for Equality and Human Rights to investigate whether the priests' comments amount to "instructing or causing discrimination".

Along with other faith bodies, HCUK debated and contributed to the Equality Act before it became law. In these debates it was agreed unanimously from an interfaith perspective that the hire of religious premises should not restrict multi-cultural events without good reason, and that faiths themselves should participate in such activities.

HCUK General Secretary Anil Bhanot said: "These priests might appear to be advising Christians not to practice yoga because they believe it is based on a 'sham' and a 'false philosophy' but what in effect they mean is that Hinduism is a false religion.

HCUK's spokesperson on Yoga, Amarjeet-singh Bhamra added: "Yoga is one of the oldest known medical systems enshrined in the Atharva Veda, the most ancient Hindu book on wisdom, and it is now at the forefront of holistic and integrated medicine in the West.

"It is very disappointing that such medieval-like irrational prejudice is still allowed to flourish in the Christian Church in 21st Century multicultural Britain."

"Hinduism is an ancient religion that is the source of many different theologies, philosophies and sciences," adds Anil Bhanot. "Many Hindus believe the source of all music can be found within one of our most ancient scriptures, the Saam Veda. It will be interesting to see, now they have been apprised of this, whether those church leaders who reject yoga will now announce a ban on all music on their premises too."

Rev Farrar of Silver Street Baptist Church has previously said: "We are a Christian organisation and when we let rooms to people we want them to understand that they must be fully in line with our Christian ethos.

"Clearly, yoga impinges on the spiritual life of people in a way which we as Christians don't believe is the same as our ethos.

"If it was just a group of children singing nursery rhymes, there wouldn't be a problem but she's called it yoga and therefore there is a dividing line we're not prepared to cross."

The Rev Tim Jones, vicar of St James's, supported the decision, saying: "Any alternative philosophies or beliefs are offering a sham - and at St James's Church we want people to have the real thing. Yoga has its roots in Hinduism, and attempts to use exercises and relaxation techniques to put a person into a calm frame of mind - in touch with some kind of impersonal spiritual reality.

"The philosophy of yoga cannot be separated from the practice of it, and any teacher of yoga, even to toddlers, must subscribe to the philosophy.

"Yoga may appear harmless or even beneficial, but it is encouraging people to think that there is a way to wholeness of body and mind through human techniques - whereas the only true way to wholeness is by faith in God through Jesus Christ."

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