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“My Concern Is The Christian Kids”: A Pastor Raises Objections to Yoga in Flagler Schools

| December 16, 2015

yoga state farms wellness program

A $30,000 grant through State Farm Insurance is underwriting a wellness program in three Flagler County schools that include yoga as a component. A Bunnell pastor is raising objections. (Paolo Neoz)

A pastor who largely misunderstood the purpose of yoga and its inclusion in a secular wellness program in three local schools appeared before the Flagler County School Board Tuesday evening to question the program’s development during school hours.

Juan Schembri, pastor at the non-denominational Eternity Church in Bunnell, described “the meditation practices of the Buddhism and the Hinduism” as “the base of the yoga and the meditation” and asked: “With this being known, how is this being allowed to be practiced in the schools? Where is the separation of church and state with these practices? Because I can easily bring in a ton of scripture that Christians would meditate on and would, I would love for our kids to be able to meditate and have these scriptures done in school, but there’s a separation of church and state, but here I see that this program was even granted by State Farm and is being allowed to be done in school and or during school hours, where ours has to be between, before school, after school or on lunch breaks. So my question is, I don’t even know how this even got through, and how this got passed the Board of Education to allow this to—because my concern is the Christian kids.”

Pat Williams, a Palm Coast resident for nine years and a former psychologist for 25 years, is the founder of a non-profit called Coaching the Global Village. The organization has been part of the weekly Road to Success program at Carver Gym, where young people learn success skills from dressing well to preparing resumes.

Earlier this year Williams secured a $30,000 service-learning grant through State Farm Insurance to teach wellness and stress management skills to students at Bunnell Elementary, Buddy Taylor Middle School and Matanzas High School. It’s one of 65 such grants awarded across the nation and Canada. Flagler’s grant is one of five in Florida. He brought in Michael Eizen, a wellness expert who works with students and faculty to develop age- and school-appropriate programs.

Eizen has already held a few sessions in the schools, including a keynote speech and “a pep talk where he talks about doing things for relaxation, meditation, how to destress, how to avoid bullying,” Williams said. “There’s all sorts of things that go into this. It’s a wellness perspective.” The emphasis is on positive thinking, an optimistic outlook, and a giving attitude. The students at each school then develop a wellness initiative which can be as simple as a gratitude board on the wall—where students write things they’re grateful for, like a running Thanksgiving board—a nutritional guide for healthy eating, or something called relaxation Mondays. It’s the students’ choice. “We’re not telling them what to do at all,” Williams said.

And it has absolutely nothing to do with religion, anything faith-based or proselytizing.

Stretching the definition of yoga as a religious exercise.

“I’ve seen this happen in other places too,” Williams said, citing concerns similar to Pastor Schembri’s when yoga was part of programs in Georgia and Colorado. “Yoga is simply a methodology for stretching and exercising, it has nothing to do with religion, and no religion is talked about in the process. That may not convince him.” Williams said he’s trained boards and staffs of non-profits including Christian missionaries in Africa, Episcopal priests in Connecticut and Catholic nuns in Chicago, and held training sessions in Nepal and Cameroon, among the six continents where he’s worked. His clients have been very ecumenical. “It’s not religious in any way, shape or form,” he said.

(After Williams’s Flagler program was highlighted in an Observer article last week, in which he appeared in a photograph next to a Buddha, he heard a few concerns about the statute, which is in his backyard: it never goes into the schools. But he had not heard about Schembri’s appearance before the school board until a reporter told him of it.)

Schembri misunderstood the purpose of meditation, too, conflating meditation and religion in ways most practitioners of meditation or yoga—several health clubs in town offer yoga in one form or another—would not recognize. “If they’re being taught a meditation that’s not in their faith, how are the kids, our kids, being protected from straying off into other faiths,” Schembri said. “There would be hell if a Muslim student or a Jewish student was taught something of a Biblical faith, of a Christian faith. They would turn up this place. And they would load up this room, talking about you can’t teach that to my child because of their faith, so where is the protection for the Christian child that this can, you know, this yoga and meditation can take place?”

pat williams coaching global village

Pat Williams. (Facebook)

School board members were surprised by Schembri’s take on what they considered to have been a healthy, uncontroversial addition to some of their schools’ wellness offerings. “I do not know anything about yoga,” board member Trevor Tucker said. “I just thought it was a stretching exercise.” Tucker was right.

Colleen Conklin, who chairs the school board, went to greater lengths: “There’s no religious principals being taught as part of that program at all,” she told Schembri, “and I would recommend that you maybe sit down with the folks who are teaching that program to get a little bit more information and insight, but as far as I’m aware, 99.9 percent positive, that there are no religious overtones or religious intonations that are being brought into that program at all. It’s really about helping students trying to de-stress and focus.” (Conklin received $3,000 from Coaching the Global Village in 2013, according to her financial disclosure form.)

Several workshops have been held in the three participating schools so far, with a parent-focused workshop this evening at Matanzas High School. The 7 p.m. workshop, titled “Creating the Empowered Family,” is open to all parents and others, whether from participating schools or not—and whether individuals have children in school or not.

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48 Responses for ““My Concern Is The Christian Kids”: A Pastor Raises Objections to Yoga in Flagler Schools”

  1. Wow, impressive that Williams was able to secure the grant. “It’s one of 65 such grants awarded across the nation and Canada.” It sounds like a brilliant program.

  2. YankeeExPat says:

    Odds bodkins!……This can only lead to teaching Evolution in Obama’s Government Schools.

    I suppose it would suffice if they taught about Jesus Ponies ala, that sage of our time…. Sarah Palin.

  3. sounds like a fantastic opportunity we have here.

  4. He is concerned because of this..
    Now I’m not saying they are teaching the religious portions. I do believe they are trying to implement the Americanized version of yoga which is about stretching and flexibility but I understand his concerns

  5. Rick G says:

    And I thought the Renaissance occurred 5 to 6 centuries ago. Awareness of what goes on around his self indulgent world must not work for Mr. Schembri. Open eyes and ears can help one learn.

  6. I think we should allow witch hunts, after all the Christians used to practice that.

  7. Boy Scouts was founded by a Nazi but I don’t see Christians being upset about that

  8. Now I’ve heard everything! For crying out loud– do a little yoga and settle the hell down!

  9. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    Hrm yes indeed, I understand that sometimes the students listen to “rock and roll” and that they allow dancing on occasion. And can you believe that they let the negroes and the whites drink from the same water fountains? All very scandalous, there needs to be more jesus in the schools these days.

    On a more serious note, dude is an idiot. None of the yoga classes that I’ve ever attended, and that is a LOT of them, emphasized religion. Yes, yoga was originally created to help practicioners in their religious practice, but as taught in the vast, vast, vast majority of the places in the united states it’s mainly a workout with a few minutes at the end to clear your mind and get in a relaxed state. Additionally, Buddhism is more akin to a philosophy about how to view one’s relationship with his or her environment than a capital “G: god religion, with many practicioners actually being atheists. So I guess you better ban philosophy classes as well.

  10. Anonymous says:

    The pastor is right., yoga is from Hinduism.

  11. He’s got a good point if you read the article. Either separation of church and state or not.

  12. Percy's mother says:

    The pastor is correct. Yoga is not simply a stretching and relaxation methodology. Yoga originated from shamanism, then flowed into Brahmanism (an ancient religious tradition), moved into Hinduism and over years morphed into how it is presented today. The foundation for yoga originates from religious (religion) tradition.

    Having spent much of my life in spiritual pursuit in one form or another, I think I have the background to offer my input into this situation. I thought carefully before writing, rather than just spouting off without thought or knowledge (as many on this site do quite often).

    I’ve travelled extensively to India, Nepal, Tibet, China, and Israel (to name a few) on spiritual pilgrimage. That being said, I’ve spent a lot of time in Hindu temples, Buddhist temples, studied the Kabbalah (mountains of northern Israel), and traipsed the Himalayas looking for the ascended masters.

    All the above to say, before you mock the pastor who has concerns about yoga being taught in schools as a “relaxation and stretching” modality, please investigate below the surface. Not everything is as it appears. I’m surprised that those on the commission haven’t investigated below the surface. Before deriding the pastor, please know that yoga originates from religious tradition (religion, get it? separation of church and state?)

    What’s the background (and verifiable credentials) of the wellness “expert”? It makes me wonder. Did the powers that be investigate the verifiable, legitimate credentials?

    I’ll stop there. Again, the pastor is absolutely correct when he voices his concerns about the children and yoga (rooted in religion) being taught in the Flagler County Public Schools. I’ll defer any thoughts on the commission giving okay without investigating as they seem to know zero this issue.

    Please . . . I hope I don’t read any more derisive comments about the pastor . . . he’s the smart one, and I can confirm it from my own experience in this matter (as noted above).

  13. Um doesn’t the bible say to meditate….if a child is being brought up as Christian then they will know to meditate on the word!
    This is for relaxing their brains in this very hectic world we live in not to mention the craziness of the assessments and tests.

  14. Kendall says:

    Good grief. I wonder what he would do if they served Jewish Apple Cake in the lunch room.

  15. This is seriously what he’s upset about?

  16. Anonymous says:


  17. Tim Stanford says:

    I think he doesn’t like the pants?

  18. Anonymous says:

    GET A LIFE !!!!

  19. Mark Fetz says:

    It depends on what type of yoga. Technically “yoga” means integration and is used by Hindu devotees to unite their souls with Brahman or another various god. “Real” yoga is most certainly religious and at odds with modern courts’ understanding of separation of church and state. The focus on the physical aspects of yoga are a modern development due in large part to swamis and other holy men who became popular on college campuses and elsewhere in the ’60s and on into the present.
    I took a wellness class in college that involved saying mantras that included the names of Hindu gods. That would most certainly upset many parents and students if that is what this form of yoga involves.
    Secular “yoga” is a contradiction in terms. If it has been totally purged of its metaphysical aspects, it does no justice even calling it yoga. I wish we could simply come up with a different term for the practice to avoid any confusion. This man’s concerns are legitimate and quite practical.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I guess Jesus would not want “Christian kids” to be exposed to Yoga and meditation, which have both been proven to have health benefits that improve cognitive and physical functioning, discipline and stress relief. That would truly be ungodly and sinful!

  21. Eugene Hartke says:

    It’s simple. Which one pays taxes? That’s the one that’s not a religion.

  22. They should all come our yoga studio! ❤️

  23. Dave says:

    Oh don’t worry before long all schools will be bowing down to Allah in prayer Five times each day. Muslims will get their way with a Democrat in office.

  24. snapperhead says:

    For those bothered by this and are worried about a separation of church and state let’s get rid of “In God We Trust” on all currency.

  25. Brad Schaaf says:

    Pat Williams and I have been neighbors and friends for four years. I marvel at his ability to handle stress, to calmly, unemotionally and rationally resolve differences before they result in a confrontation and to always maintain and project a positive attitude around others no matter what the circumstances.

    Never in my lifetime have children been faced with more daily stress from bullying, gun violence and uncertain futures. Obviously, the available coping mechanisms are inadequate. Because of the separation of church and state, with which I know Pat strongly agrees, current religious support systems are correctly confined to out of school hours.

    As Colleen Conklin said, “It’s really about helping students trying to de-stress and focus.” I congratulate the School Board and State Farm for recognizing that Pat’s program will do just that and for understanding that he has no other agenda in this regard, religious or otherwise.

    I am totally mystified as to what Pastor Schembri’s agenda is other than to suggest that his church be allowed to do the very thing .. a violation of separation of church and state .. that out of ignorance, paranoia and over-reaching knee-jerk reactions he so incorrectly and unfairly accuses Mr. Williams, State Farm and the School Board of doing. Sometimes Pastor Schembri a decorative statue in one’s backyard is just that and nothing more, as hard it may be for you to accept.

  26. loyalty says:

    If it’s simple stretching why call it Yoga? Yoga is in fact a religion. It’s funny how easy people compromise when they want to justify something. Even if it’s a little Yoga it’s still extracted from a legitimate religion. One cannot serve two Gods and call themselves a follower of one.

  27. Ronda Seabolt says:

    I love Yoga Studio 8; Christy, Kris, Jesse and Karen rock those poses! :-D

  28. FiveMinuteGoogle says:

    This pastor, and some of the comments on this board, are another example of the Radical Right living in their own little world. There is a difference between Yoga and yoga (@ Anonymous December 16, 2015 at 6:34 pm, @Percy’s Mother, @Mark Fetz). Yes the first contains aspects of spiritual beliefs. The second is a medical term. Yes!! Words have definitions!! If you read the actual grant proposal (quick google let me find it in about 30 seconds), you see that the Principal Investigators specifically do not capitalize yoga. What is the (actual, real, official, true) definition of yoga? From the Medical Dictionary: Since yoga is not capitalized in the grant proposal (except where it should be capitalized, like at the beginning of a sentence), this would be the second definition of yoga:

    — “a system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation derived from Yoga but often practiced independently especially in Western cultures to promote bodily or mental control and well-being”

    Words have definitions and meaning. Those definitions may change over the course of years and though cultural integration. Yoga does not need to include any spiritual teaching (see how Yoga/yoga was at the beginning of a sentence so it’s ambiguous whether it’s Yoga or yoga?) A quick search, a little bit of comprehension, and finding facts can determine which one is appropriate. Pastor Schembri is objecting to our children being taught posture, breathing, and meditation that is independent of religion? As I said: the Radical Right living in their own little world.

    PS: please excuse any grammatical errors. I made every attempt to capitalize only words that are proper nouns or titles, but I’m not a “Grammar Nazi.” (by the way, @Crystal Rodriguez, BSA was founded by W. D. Boyce on February 8, 1910, and the second line of the Scout Oath is “to do my duty to God and my country”)

  29. JonQPublik says:

    Oh good lord. Give it a rest. Though yoga’s history may have evolved from a religion, it is NOT currently a practice solely identified as religious in nature. If that were the case, yoga studios would be considered religious establishments, which they are not (prove me otherwise, I’ll consider it… and not with self-serving christian rhetoric, please).

    And, if you want to continue arguing about this in regard to separation of church and state– only stating one instance here to be brief– please remove prayer time from all school sporting events (or other school functions), including the behind-the-scene prayer time (ie: before football games – if this has in fact been removed from practice, then thank you). A “moment of silence”, “for reflection” is perfectly acceptable.

    I’ve seen some of the children in our school system. Running around like headless chickens, screaming like banshees; or the ones who are just too obese to do the running around. A wellness program like yoga can only help your child become a more evolved individual (I hope). If you don’t think there’s a benefit to children being exposed to healthier living, then you (perhaps, again) fail as a parent.

  30. Mondexian Mama says:

    What the xians don’t want to understand is that most of Jesus’ teaching comes from buddhism. When He was in the wilderness for forty days and nights honing his craft, there were many trade routes from which he met other street preachers and holy men.
    Most,if not all,employed magic tricks to gain followers and cadge a few shekels from the local rubes.
    If Houdini were alive back then,the dim bulbs would be worshiping him today.

  31. Sherry says:

    I am very disappointed that this minister, and some religious zealots commenting here, are expressing “fear laced” concerns without any understanding of the classes in question. Yes, the practice of bringing together in health and peace the mind, spirit and body called Yoga, in very ancient times, originated from those that happened to believe in the Hindu faith. But Yoga is NOT a religion itself! Yoga has greatly evolved over the centuries, and most often as practiced across the USA and many other countries in the modern world has NOTHING to do with any religion.

    I am quite certain that if this minister and those “experts” commenting here had actually taken one of the classes in question. . . they would see that it is certainly NOT a religious practice in any way, shape or form. . . much less an under cover way for those “Muslim” terrorists to infiltrate our schools and steal our children!

    WOW! They may even benefit from the exercises/poses/stretches that strengthen and balance the body in a very peaceful way. . . one that helps to release stress and create positive well being.

    Wouldn’t a true Christian leader encourage his flock to take great care of their bodies, relax their minds, try to be peaceful and calm? This minister needed to do his “homework” before he broached this subject!

  32. Nadine says:

    And I say to the Pastor; Namaste.
    Here is what I have learned since practicing yoga: proper breathing, patience, acceptance, strength, finding peace with myself and others, balance, etc. What horrible, horrible things to teach children!!!! Try a class at Yoga studio 8, then write your opinion. Oh, I’m a Christ follower, btw.

  33. Ed Hird says:

    This was a most interesting article. It is important to listen nondefensively in such a dialogue so that both sides are respectfully heard, rather than just dismissed with one-liners. I commend to you my yoga critique article for your thoughtful consideration

    Dr. Ed Hird

  34. KarmaIsReal says:

    No offense Yoga Studio Christy but I wouldn’t send my worst enemy there. Unless of course I wanted them to learn what Yoga is not about… A half naked instructor who preaches about everything they are not. Yes, the perfect place to send our community especially students. NOT!


    Heaven forbid that school children should learn relaxation techniques and the skill of introspection. We don’t want them becoming self-aware.

    That said, I’m mistrustful of anyone saying they have the answers for Coaching the Global Village. It takes a special kind of hubris to proclaim that you know what’s best for everybody.

  36. Anonymous says:

    It is not uncommon for the super-evangelical crowd to use semantics as a way to push their own agendas relentlessly while guarding the gates excessively against anything they perceive as threat to their own entitled interests. It won’t work. People are on to you and your petty, egocentric small-minded agenda.

  37. Rick G says:

    The pastor is the “smart one” that’s rich from someone who also believes in a cloud being. This whole thing sounds like a song I once heard called “My Religion is better than your Religion”

  38. Oldseadog says:

    Psst Pastor

    “Yoga is not a religion. It is a science, science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul.”
    ― Amit Ray

    Perhaps you should attend a class and enjoy……………….!

  39. Vicki Chalkley says:

    The Pastor is Correct & YOGA does not have a place in Public School.
    What modern people think of Yoga; they have a misconception and never talk about the dangers of Yoga.
    YOGA isn’t such a good thing! You open yourself up to demonic….

    Yoga is a Satanic Spiritual Practice BEWARE !!! X Yoga Instructor Speaks Out !!! –

    “Yoga is Satanic Witchcraft” TVC Mario interviews X-Yogi Purvi –

    Kundalini Syndrome –

  40. Trumpster says:

    When I’m elected, I’ll put a stop to all this Religious Pollution. The EPA will be charged with eliminating and controlling this form of pollution just like all other dangerous materials.

  41. socko says:

    50 pounds less and closer to God than ever! Thank you Hot yoga lounge! The first and the best! Keep up the great work! It is all about love and the things we do for it!

  42. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    Yoga is satanic witchcraft? I don’t think there’s enough facepalms and eyerolls in the state of florida to express how moronic that statement is. Yes, yoga was originally developed to help hindu get closer to the divine. Dancing and singing can also be used to do the same. Long walks in the woods can bring a person closer to his or her idea of a creator. Better ban all of these, I guess.

    Really. Satanic witchcraft. What’s next? Golf as a gateway to meth use?

  43. David B says:

    After suffering a stroke some years ago, It was requested by the medical staff that a suggested rehab would be Yoga to help me retain my strength and balance. I found a local Yoga Instructor named Christy who patiently helped me to regain my strength and balance. I would truly recommend Yoga for those with balance, coordination and strength issues.

  44. Dan potter says:

    We have the internet to immediately supply us with facts concerning almost any topic. Many of us rely on this to counter the statements of others rather than form an opinion of our own. I use my instinct and association with many years of life to judge what is right. Some things neither have a right or wrong. Everything cannot be answered with a simple proclamation. Opinions are frequently voiced by clergy but that does not make it right or wrong. What is the truth to me is often nonsense to others.

  45. Dan potter says:

    Miss Lecuyer

    I believe you. The mind at rest is a rested mind.

  46. I am indeed surprised (a little) by the controversy of my YOUTH WELLNESS INITIATIVES with threeflagler schools which involves yoga and mindfulness stress management techniques and strategies. And yet, I do understand that is why in our country we have freedom of expression. Opinions and points of view are just that …..opinions, not facts, and beliefs, that may not be the “truth” to others
    I am an internationally certified trainer of POINTS OF YOU ™ which has creative communication tools to teach in a fun way how we all have points of view, but it can be illuminating to get another perspective. See more at

    Merry Christmas and happy holiday season to all

  47. Ed Hird says:

    As long as we still have the freedom to respectfully and thoughtfully disagree, there is hope for our world. We need to be cautious, particular in the area of yoga, in either demonizing or dismissing those who have another perspective. For many in yoga, it is almost impossible to question yoga. Questions keep our mind working. Does yoga have a tendency at the higher levels to ‘kill the mind’ through simultaneous sensory overload and sensory deprivation?

    Dr. Ed Hird

  48. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    Hey Ed, yoga doesn’t attempt to kill the mind, one of its many goals is to quiet the stray thoughts and chatter that the average mind experiences in an attempt to create a state of mindfulness similar to meditation in zen buddhism. Here’s a link that you might find helpful regarding this:

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