The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a conservative Christian watchdog group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson who has compared Buddhism to a disease, has launched a legal campaign to fight what it calls “forced Buddhist meditation” in schools.
The group accuses schools in at least 12 states of “forcing” students to listen to secular mindfulness audiotapes, in which audio recordings guide students through stress-reduction practices. ACLJ claims that mindfulness practices “equate to Buddhism.”
Inner Exploration says its secular curriculum is designed to provide students with skills like self-awareness, resilience and self-control, for example.
“We’re launching a multifaceted legal campaign including representing parents of these students, sending demand letters, state FOIA requests, and if necessary, litigation,” reads a petition on the organization’s website. “Indoctrinating young kids in public schools with Buddhist meditation is outright unconstitutional.”
The group’s petition, launched Wednesday, has garnered more than 50,000 signatures on the evangelical group’s website.
A recent ACLJ blog post raises fears around the program, writing:
Imagine your elementary school child coming home one night and explaining the actions that their teacher asked them to do that day—to close their eyes and obey an audio recording that tells them to clear their minds, to watch their memories and emotions float away on clouds, and to feel the love and warmth from their connection to the universe. How would you react if this same audio recording is telling your child to look inside themselves to reach inner-goodness and peace?
Although meditation is linked to Buddhism spiritual practices, the programs provided by schools are secular. “Mindfulness is not a religion,” Inner Exploration’s website states. “It is a set of simple attention practices that promote full awareness of the present moment. These attention practices allow students to develop the capacity to sustain focus.” Psychologists have used mindfulness techniques since the 1970s, but its popularity has soared in recent years with the rise of commercial meditation programs.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques were developed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Used to help students improve their focus and concentration, their wider benefits are the subject of ongoing clinical investigation.
But ACLJ view the mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques used in some schools as a danger to children. The organization condemned audio recordings it claims say, “ We’re all connected through nature. And we’re all connected through the universe.”
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at ACLJ and personal attorney to President Donald Trump, recently criticized the use of mindfulness in schools on his radio program, Jay Sekulow Live, Buddhist website Lion’s Roar reported.
“We’ve got millions of people listening to this broadcast,” said Sekulow, per Lion’s Roar. “Find out what’s going on in your kids’ schools… We will contact the school board on your behalf, dispatch lawyers as necessary.”
Said one caller on Sekulow’s radio program, “This is toxic ideology. This goes beyond just bad education. This could be corrupting our children’s eternal souls. I have two small children, and I don’t want them sitting around just thinking about creation and goodness and peace. I mean, if my two angels, who are innocent, are gonna be learning about explorers, they should be learning about Jesus or Trump.”
One of the ACLJ’s main activities is the promotion of Christian prayer in public schools.