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Yoga Ban in Alabama Schools May Soon Be Overturned

A bill to reverse a 28-year ban on yoga instruction in public schools stalled in committee in the Alabama State Legislature last week, but lawmakers are confident that they can garner enough votes to overturn the law.

CNN is reporting on the bill which was introduced by Rep. Jeremy Gray, a former North Carolina State football player and yoga instructor, who believes its physical and mental health benefits should be allowed as an elective for K-12 students in public schools in the state. Yoga, meditation, and hypnosis has been banned in Alabama public schools since 1993.

As it is currently written, the bill states that "All instruction in yoga shall be limited exclusively to poses, exercises, and stretching techniques,” all of which must have English descriptive names. “Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited.”

Rep. Gray, who took up yoga while playing football, believes the time has come to allow the practice into schools. "If yoga exercise is good enough for our Alabama prisons, local gyms, local churches, private/charter schools, sports teams, military & veterans, and the everyday citizen, then why is it not good enough for our most vulnerable children in K-12 public schools? This bill not passing would be a great disservice to those children who really need it,” he said.

In an email, he told CNN, “I can give you a ton of reasons why yoga is beneficial and those reasons are backed by studies and data. There is no study to my knowledge that says doing yoga exercise converts people to Hinduism."

What the article didn't include are the "ton of reasons" why introducing children to yoga in a public school setting might be inappropriate.

For example, Becky Gerritson, director of Eagle Forum of Alabama, argues that yoga is a very big part of the Hindu religion and bringing it into a school may impose view on children that parents do not approve of. This is particularly true because the bill does not prohibit meditation which is very much a part of yoga practice.

“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,” she told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Introducing eastern meditation exercises into public schools has already caused lawyers at the American Center for Law and Justice to send warning letters to public schools who are introducing mindfulness meditation to students which they claim has been scrubbed of its Buddhist roots. However, just as is the case with yoga that promoters claim has been reduced to “just exercise,” the inclusion of yogic meditation could indeed fall into similar murky legal territory where possible Establishment Clause violations can occur.

As Gerritson pointed out to CNN, another good reason why the Alabama legislature should keep the ban in place is because, "We should not be spending taxpayer money, resources and time teaching children Eastern spiritual practices."

At the moment the bill remains stalled in committee due to a 4-4 tie vote, but two lawmakers who support the bill were absent at the time. The committee approved a motion to have the bill brought back up again, and it is scheduled to be voted upon sometime this week. If it passes, it will be sent to the full Senate for approval and then to the Governor for signature. It has already passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

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