Alabama is considering a bill aimed at ending a ban on yoga in public schools, though some believe that lifting the prohibition would constitute a government endorsement of religion.
Known as House Bill 235 and introduced last month by Democratic Representative Jeremy Gray of Opelika, the proposal was approved by the House education policy committee last week.
The bill would allow local school boards to approve yoga classes under certain conditions, among them making the class an elective rather than a requirement.
“All instruction in yoga shall be limited exclusively to poses, exercises, and stretching techniques,” reads the bill in part. “Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited.”
At present, the State Board of Education Administrative Code prohibits the practice of yoga as part of a broader ban on “the use of hypnosis and dissociative mental states.”
“School personnel shall be prohibited from using any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga,” stated the Code.
The Code defines yoga as a “Hindu philosophy and method of religious training in which eastern meditation and contemplation are joined with physical exercises, allegedly to facilitate the development of body-mind-spirit.”
Republican Rep. Will Dismukes of Prattville spoke in support of the bill and felt that it did not represent the endorsement of a specific religion, noting that he knew of “churches that do yoga.”
“We talk about prayer and meditation a lot. I think you can pray to God and do yoga, or you can think about whatever you want to,” stated Dismukes, as reported by al.com.
Joe Godfrey, executive director of the conservative Christian group the Alabama Citizens’ Action Program, spoke out against the proposed legislation, arguing that allowing yoga involved the government establishing a religion.
“You can't separate the exercises from the religious meditation aspect of it. This is Hinduism, straight up,” said Godfrey, reported al.com.
“What you're doing is blatantly teaching a religious exercise that would violate the Establishment Clause.”
A practice that derives from the Far East, yoga has garnered widespread popularity in western nations, with churches offering diverse reactions to the practice.
In 2018, Missouri megachurch pastor John Lindell of the 10,000-member James River Church in Ozark preached a sermon claiming that yoga will "open you up to demonic power."
“Let me say this, yoga positions were not designed by your local fitness instructor. They were designed and they were created with demonic intent to open you up to demonic power. Because Hinduism is demonic,” stated Lindell at the time.
“Every false religion is demonic. Hinduism is not a mild, gentile, pacifist religion. Anybody who says that has not visited India … Neither is Buddhism. We may have a sanitized view of it in our Western culture but it is not pacifist. It is demonic. It is idol worship.”
Serita Jakes, wife of televangelist Bishop T.D. Jakes, spoke positively of the practice in a social media post from 2018, which spotlighted a class at The Potter's House of Dallas.
“Today, we aspired to inspire #health mentally, emotionally, and physically. Our ladies even got a taste of #yoga from @Mrs_BrittHall,” she said in an Instagram post at the time.
“Health goes beyond what you eat. It's in the way you think, speak, and live. Thank you to all of the lovely sister girls that came to play with us! I love you.”