A representative from the organization says mindfulness practices “are clearly antithetical to the Christian religion.”
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a conservative Christian watchdog group, has launched a legal campaign to fight what it calls “Buddhist meditation” in American public schools. The group takes issue with the secular mindfulness programs that have been implemented in some schools, in which audio recordings guide students through stress-reduction practices. The organization says that mindfulness practices “equate to Buddhism.”
The ACLJ is a Christian conservative watchdog group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, who in the past has compared Buddhism to a disease. Jay Sekulow, the organization’s chief counsel, is on President Trump’s legal team. One of the ACLJ’s main activities is the promotion of Christian prayer in public schools.
“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.”
In November, representatives from the ACLJ reportedly attended a school board meeting in Colorado to oppose mindfulness programs in schools.
According to the ACLJ, the practices are meant to help students handle stress, calm down, and concentrate on school work. Representatives from the ACLJ say students are asked to sit at their desk and find goodness inside of themselves or connect with nature.
On Sekulow’s radio show, Jay Sekulow Live, one commentator called the programs “aggressive Buddhist teaching.” Abbey Southerland, the ACLJ’s senior counsel, said the programs tell students to “’look inside yourself,’ ‘find the goodness within yourself’ — things that are clearly antithetical to the Christian religion.”
A blog post on the ACLJ website 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?
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.”
Sekulow called on listeners to help with a “multi-pronged attack,” starting with finding out if mindfulness programs are offered in their children’s schools. “We’ve got millions of people listening to this broadcast,” said Sekulow. “Find out what’s going on in your kids’ schools… We will contact the school board on your behalf, dispatch lawyers as necessary.”
The ACLJ argues that the programs constitute Buddhist indoctrination because the mindfulness practices appear to be similar to Buddhist religious practices. Sekulow also argues that the programs are Buddhist because one of the programs offered in some schools, MindUP, was founded by Goldie Hawn, who is a Buddhist.
Proponents of secular mindfulness say mindfulness is not a Buddhist practice; it is a contemplative practice used in religious traditions around the world by many different names. Most programs in schools today are based scientifically-validated programs developed by clinicians.