2021-04-01 by W.M.
‘You’ll become Hindu’: Yoga remains banned in Alabama schools after senate vote
Alabama’s Senate has rejected a bill that would have reversed a 28-year ban on practising yoga in public schools
Alabama’s senate has rejected a bill that would have reversed a 28-year ban on practising yoga in public schools.
Alabama State Rep. Jeremy Gray’s bill was defeated in committee on Wednesday night, despite a provision that would have made bringing yoga back to Alabama public schools voluntary. Yoga was forbidden by the Alabama Board of Education in 1993 after opposition by conservative groups over its Hindu roots.
The committee vote in effect continues a ban believed unique in the United States: “School personnel shall be prohibited from using any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga” (in addition to banning “namaste,” which means “I bow to you”).
At issue is whether yoga promotes Hinduism.
Groups who argued against the Alabama bill believe it violates the separation of church and state. The act of meditation is spiritual, argues constitutional lawyer Eric Johnston, who works with Christian advocacy groups that have spoken out against the measure.
“If you pass a law that says you can do stretches and sit in positions and so forth, that’s fine,” Johnston said. “But to say you can teach yoga is an entirely different thing because yoga is an exercise of the Hindu religion.”
Johnston and others say they don’t object to adults participating in yoga but they feel children are impressionable.
“Children at that age are very tech-savvy and if they are taught yoga, all they have to do is Google it and they will immediately find information on the spiritual aspects of it and look at it,” he said. “And if they look at it, it might lead them to believe that’s something they should be involved in.”
Gray, who began practising yoga in college as a football player at the end of his workouts, said yoga is everywhere in the state — there’s even a yoga program available to the state’s prison inmates.
He didn’t realize it wasn’t permitted at schools until he visited a class to speak about politics and lawmaking and told students he meditated to help himself focus. The students and faculty in the room appeared uncomfortable at the mention, he said, and teachers later told him they became certified to teach a course but were not allowed to because a group of parents complained.
No other state has a similar ban, Gray said.
Gray’s proposal tried to mollify his critics: His bill stipulated that “chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, and 11 namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited.”
The state legislator told reporters, “This whole notion that if you do yoga, you’ll become Hindu — I’ve been doing yoga for 10 years and I go to church and I’m very much a Christian.”
With additional reporting from The Washington Post