May 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Efforts to reverse a 28-year-old ban on yoga in Alabama public schools are facing resistance over fears that the wellness practice is linked to Hinduism.

Yoga was banned in Alabama public schools in 1993. Since then, there have been occasional attempts to overturn the law. This year, state Rep. Jeremy Gray, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Lee and Russell counties, introduced a bill that would allow public school students to take yoga as an elective if local schools choose to offer it.

“I can give you a ton of reasons why yoga is beneficial and those reasons are backed by studies and data,” Gray, who has taught yoga, told CNN. “There is no study to my knowledge that says doing yoga exercise converts people to Hinduism.”

Under Gray’s bill, yoga in public schools would be limited “exclusively to poses, exercises, and stretching techniques,” and the use of non-English terms would be banned.

Gray’s bill passed the Alabama House of Representatives but stal­led in the Senate. During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Becky Gerritson of the Christian nationalist group Eagle Forum opposed the legislation.

“We should not be spending taxpayer money, resources and time teaching children Eastern spiritual practices,” Gerritson told CNN.

CNN reported that the committee failed to advance the bill on a tie vote. But two members of the committee were absent for that vote, and a few days later the committee voted again. This time, the members approved the bill on a 5-2 vote. It will now advance to the full state Senate.

Yoga’s roots stretch back thousands of years in India. Today, many people in America practice it for relaxation, wellness and fitness and consider it a secular form of exercise.