Alabama Continues 28-Year Ban On Yoga In Public Schools Over Hinduism Fears

The millennia-old practice of yoga has become one of India's most famous exports to the rest of the world.

Yoga studios might not have cropped up on every Main Street in America just yet, but no serious fitness program is complete without it, or at least incorporates elements of it. It can be both a relaxational practice or a good workout!

And yet, resistance to yoga has been surprisingly stubborn in some places — and few have been as inflexible as Alabama, the only state to outright ban yoga in public schools.

That's right: If kids in Alabama want to learn to do yoga, they'll have to do so outside of the state's public schools.

Unsplash | Ginny Rose Stewart

In 1993, Alabama banned yoga in public schools, and in 2021, lawmakers saw fit to uphold that ban. Why? Because of fears that yoga will be a gateway for kids to learn about Hinduism.

As CBS News reported, a bill seeking to lift the state's ban failed to pass a Senate committee after two conservative groups objected.

The form of yoga proposed in the bill would hardly be recognizable by experienced practitioners.

Unsplash | Avrielle Suleiman

The bill, put forward by Democratic state Representative Jeremy Gray, a former North Carolina State University football player, offered up some compromises to those opposing yoga in schools.

For one thing, students wouldn't be forced to learn it — they'd be able to opt out. For another, any of the traditional names for poses would be jettisoned for English terminology.

"Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited," according to the bill, CBS News reported.

Opponents still expressly fear the connection between yoga and Hinduism.

Constitutional lawyer Eric Johnston, who works with Christian advocacy groups, believes that allowing yoga in classrooms would violate the separation of church and state.

"If you pass a law that says you can do stretches and sit in positions and so forth, that’s fine," he said, according to the National Post. "But to say you can teach yoga is an entirely different thing because yoga is an exercise of the Hindu religion."

"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 added. "And if they look at it, it might lead them to believe that’s something they should be involved in."

But Gray, who identifies himself as a Christian, doesn't buy it.

Unsplash | Jordan Nix

"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," he said, according to AP News. He also noted that yoga classes are offered to the state's prison inmates.

He says the benefits of yoga outweigh any concerns about Hinduism, saying it's "about children in K-12 public school having the ability to breathe, meditate, practice mindfulness and learn exercises that will help them both physically and mentally."

There is still hope for Gray's bill.

Unsplash | Anupam Mahapatra

Although the bill came to a 4-4 vote, the committee's chairman carried the bill over so it wouldn't die completely. Gray may be able to re-introduce it, but his opponents seem entrenched.

"As far as the hearing, the talking point around Hinduism is the same talking point used in 2019 when I first introduced the bill," he told CBS News.

h/t: CBS News, National Post, AP News