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Alabama fails to reverse ban on school yoga as conservatives say they fear rise in Hinduism

Bill to lift ban on yoga in Alabama schools – which would still prohibit ‘namaste’ greetings and chanting – will be brought back for another try after a vote ended in a tie

Akshita Jain
Friday 02 April 2021 20:02 BST
Alabama Stalls On Lifting 28-Year-Old Yoga Ban at Public Schools
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A ban on yoga in Alabama public schools is expected to stay a little longer as conservative groups raised objections to a bill that would have reversed the current restrictions. 

At a public hearing on Wednesday, representatives from two conservative groups said they were worried it could lead to the promotion of Hinduism or guided meditation practices. The bill did not advance in the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Democratic representative Jeremy Gray of Opelika, who has been trying since 2019 to get the ban revoked, sponsored the bill. “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.

The vote on the bill ended in a tie. With two members absent, the committee chairman said he would bring the bill back for another try when more members are present. 

The Alabama Board of Education voted in 1993 to prohibit school personnel from “using any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga.”

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Mr Gray’s bill would allow school systems to offer yoga as an elective activity. It says that “all instruction in yoga shall be limited exclusively to poses, exercises and stretching techniques” and that all techniques “shall have exclusively English descriptive names,” according to NBC News

Chanting, mantras and “namaste” greetings would be prohibited, the proposed legislation says.

The bill received push back at the public hearing on Wednesday. 

Becky Gerritson, director of Eagle Forum of Alabama, told the committee that yoga is a very big part of the Hindu religion and the bill is not needed because students can do stretches now in school. 

“If this bill passes, then instructors will be able to come into classrooms as young as kindergarten and bring these children through guided imagery, which is a spiritual exercise, and it’s outside their parents’ view. And we just believe that this is not appropriate,” the Associated Press quoted her as saying. 

Mr Gray learned about the ban by chance. During a visit to a public high school in 2019, teachers told him that they had been unable to arrange yoga exercises for their students. “That’s how I learned it was banned,” Mr Gray said.

The bill to override the ban was passed by the state’s House of Representatives last month. Mr Gray said he expects the bill to come up again before the committee next week. 

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