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Alabama yoga bill stalls after conservative groups object

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s decades-old ban on yoga in public schools could stay in place a little longer following push-back from conservative groups.

The Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday did not advance the bill after a public hearing in which representatives from two conservative groups objected, saying they were worried it could lead to the promotion of Hinduism or guided meditation practices. The Alabama lawmaker sponsoring the bill, a former college athlete, said the bill is about exercise and not religion.

“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,” Democratic Rep. Jeremy Gray of Opelika.

The legislation failed on a tie vote but 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 yoga, hypnosis and meditation in public school classrooms. Gray’s bill says school systems could authorize yoga if they choose. Yoga done in school would be limited to poses and stretches, and all poses would have to have English names. The use of chanting, mantras and teaching the greeting “namaste” would be forbidden.

The bill still received criticism in a public hearing.

“Yoga is a very big part of the Hindu religion,” Becky Gerritson, director of Eagle Forum of Alabama, told the committee. Gerritson argued the bill is unneeded since 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.”

John Eidsmoe, the senior counsel for the Foundation for Moral Law, suggested schools could have yoga clubs instead or parents could sign forms stating they “understand the Hindu origins of this.”

Rajan Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, said yoga can utilized by people of all religions, and the overwhelming majority of yoga instructors and practitioners in the U.S. and Alabama are non-Hindus and remain non-Hindus.

“Traditionally Hinduism was not into proselytism. So, Alabamans should not to be scared of yoga at all,” Zed wrote in a statement after the committee meeting.

Gray said he was disappointed but hopes the bill will pass the next time it comes before the committee.

Gray, a former cornerback at North Carolina State University, said he was introduced to yoga through football, and enjoyed it so much that he later became a yoga instructor. Many professional and college sports teams incorporate yoga into their training because the benefits to flexibility and concentration, he said.

The House of Representatives had approved Gray’s bill on a 73-25 vote.

The 1993 Alabama yoga ban got new attention in 2018 when an old document circulated listing yoga — along with games like tag — among inappropriate activities in gym class.

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