Yoga classes will return to Alabama schools after a nearly 30-year ban but the traditional “namaste” greeting and chanting will remain forbidden.
Governor Kay Ivey has signed legislation that reverses the ban on yoga instruction in classrooms amid persistent claims that the practice would introduce Hinduism into schools.
The bill, introduced earlier this year by representative Jeremy Gray, allows all students to take yoga instruction as an elective. Whether the class is actually offered will be left up to local boards of education.
The legislation, according to the Alabama legislative website, states that “All instruction in yoga shall be limited exclusively to poses, exercises, and stretching techniques.”
All techniques will be required to have English descriptive names, and chanting, mantras and using the greeting “namaste,” which translates as “I bow to you,” will be prohibited.
Some conservative groups have asked for yoga in schools to remain prohibited due to its connections to Hinduism and Buddhism, with them claiming the practice is a religious activity.
“With the evangelicals and this being a Bible state, they felt it was like a threat to Christianity. Even 30 years later, you still have those same sentiments,” said Gray.
The state congressman sponsored the bill three years in a row before it finally passed this year.
Opponents of the change, including Becky Gerritson, executive director of the Eagle Forum of Alabama, a conservative advocacy group, have called the measure unnecessary.
Students in Alabama schools already do stretches and other movements, Gerritson said. The bill adds meditation and “guided mindfulness” to the curriculum, which she argued violates the constitution’s prohibition of the teaching of religion in schools.
“We should not be spending taxpayer money, resources and time teaching children Eastern spiritual practices,” Gerritson told CNN.
In 1993 the Alabama State Board of Education prohibited “any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga” – the latter defined as a “method of religious training”.
Gray, who was a yoga instructor and has been doing yoga for more than a decade, said Alabama was the only US state to ban it in public schools.
Alabama is a Bible Belt state, he said, and in 1996, the State Board of Education adopted a textbook sticker that disclaimed evolution.
In 2017, Alabama politicians considered passing a bill that would give legal protection to teachers who present Creationism or Intelligent Design as a scientific theory to challenge evolution.