Since 1993, Alabama has officially prohibited the practice of yoga in elementary school classrooms or even extracurricular activities.
The Alabama State Board of Education says it’s part of a prohibition on “the use of hypnosis and dissociative mental states” that also covers now-common practices like guided imagery and meditation. (It can, however, be taught in high school physical education classes as long as nobody uses the y-word.)
The concerns represented by the current state of the law are outdated. Meditative practices like mindfulness and guided imagery have been studied intensively and found to offer plenty of benefits in areas like stress-reduction, focus, and self-awareness. Yoga provides all this and more, helping children hone developing physical skills like balance, endurance, flexibility, and strength.
So State Rep. Jeremy Gray, a Democrat, has introduced HB 235 to reverse the ban on yoga in particular.
Since the bill’s introduction in February, a local Christian advocacy group has come forward in opposition, arguing — get this — that yoga in schools would violate the Establishment Clause.
The charge against HB 235 is being led by Dr. Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens’ Action Program (ALCAP), a local group lobbying for evangelical Christians’ interests in the legislature.
Godfrey admits that his own daughter laughed at his concerns, but he remains adamant that yoga is a religious practice that must not be taught in the classroom:
You can’t separate the exercises from the religious meditation aspect of it. This is Hinduism, straight up. What you’re doing is blatantly teaching a religious exercise that would violate the Establishment Clause.
I promise you no student has ever walked out of a yoga class pledging allegiance to Shiva or Vishnu.
A secularized version of a historically Hindu practice, presented without proselytizing? Not acceptable.
Representatives on both sides of the aisle say they don’t accept Godfrey’s reasoning. As Republican State Rep. Danny Garrett points out, Christianity has adapted plenty of practices that used to belong to other religions — Christmas trees, for instance, or the Easter bunny — without endorsing those religions’ beliefs. And some local churches are already doing the same with yoga, offering a Christian version of the practice alongside social gatherings and Bible studies.
Gray acknowledges that yoga in the classroom looks different from the traditional practice in more ways than one:
You wouldn’t be doing a lot of physical exercise… You would be doing a five-minute reflection and exercise. You would breathe and you would think about ‘what can I do positive today’. When we talk about physical health or mental health, it could really help school systems.
He also acknowledges that classrooms and sports programs across Alabama are already using religiously neutral versions of meditation and yoga, in defiance of the law.
Ultimately, all but one member of the House’s committee for education policy voted to carry the bill forward for the House’s consideration, in spite of Godfrey’s demonstrably laughable concerns.
(Image via Shutterstock)