A Christian group says a stress-reduction classes for students at a Raleigh elementary school promoted “New Age” beliefs and were school-sponsored religious activities that violated the First Amendment.
Called2Action, a local activist organization, has sent a letter to Wake County Schools Superintendent Bill McNeal and school board members asking them to make sure this kind of “spiritual and religious program” doesn’t happen again.
“For a Christian parent, you’ve got some areas of concern that they’re teaching things opposite to your faith,” said Steve Noble, chairman of Called2Action. “But what’s even beyond that is it’s violating the (First Amendment) establishment clause.”
The complaint was being reviewed by the school district’s attorneys, said Michael Evans, a Wake schools’ spokesman.
Called2Action said it received complaints from a mother whose children were asked to do breathing exercises, chant and use their “life forces” last month at Partnership Elementary School. The classes were conducted by Emily Gunter, founder of the Rites of Passage Youth Empowerment Foundation in Durham.
Her foundation’s Web site says its mission is “to bring peace to our world through the personal empowerment and spiritual development of the Youth.”
The Web site also notes that Gunter just returned from a spiritual pilgrimage in the Himalayas of Tibet and Nepal, where she wrote her newest book, “A Rite of Passage to Spiritual Enlightenment: Living with Compassion.”
Gunter did not immediately return a phone message left Sunday.
A Florida legal firm contacted by Called2Action issued a legal memorandum that said Gunter’s “conscious breathing” activity is a New Age religious and spiritual activity associated with Hindu religious faiths. The memo adds that Gunter was engaging in a program of religious meditation that violated the First Amendment by making the school proselytize the children in New Age beliefs.
“If a person had taught to pray to Jesus Christ to reduce stress, that would have been stopped,” Noble said.
Calls to officials at Partnership Elementary weren’t returned Friday.