Yoga no longer banned in Alabama schools, but "namaste" is

After a failed attempt to overturn Alabama's nearly three-decade ban on yoga in public schools, the state legislature has finally gotten over their moral panic and agreed to lift the ruling. But there's a catch, as Slate explains:

Under the new law, yoga instructors are barred from using any Sanskrit names for poses and must refer to them using their English equivalent only. There will be no oms in the schoolhouse, as mantras are verboten as is chanting of any kind. In fact, the state Legislature has also banned the use of the salutation namaste altogether. As if that version of yoga weren't watered down enough, the state will also require participating students to get a permission slip signed by their parents. The text of said permission slip was included in the bill: "I understand that yoga is part of the Hinduism religion. I give my child permission to participate in yoga instruction in school." Good to double-check just to make sure yoga isn't sneaking up on anyone in Alabama.

The original yoga ban was implemented in 1993, according to the Associated Press. The bill was pushed through by conservative groups, who were concerned about "inappropriate" physical activities such as yoga, meditation, hypnosis, and … playing tag? As Eric Johnston, a constitutional lawyer who advocates for Christian groups, explained to the Washington Post, yoga is inherently spiritual. "If you pass a law that says you can do stretches and sit in positions and so forth, that's fine," he said. "But to say you can teach yoga is an entirely different thing, because yoga is an exercise of the Hindu religion."

This argument is both absurd, and a fascinating precedent that could be used to abolish all kinds of now-secular social practices rooted in Christian tradition. I'm also not sure how it explains the inclusion of "tag" in that bill.

Becky Gerritson, the director of the Alabama chapter of the Phyllis Schlafly-founded Christian advocacy organization Eagle Forum, echoed this sentiment. "If this [repeal] 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 said.

Democratic state representative Jeremy Gray was one of the leaders in the charge to repeal the yoga ban. He has been practicing yoga for over a decade, during which time he also been a practicing Christian. "There is no study to my knowledge that says doing yoga exercise converts people to Hinduism," he said, according to CBS News.

"One Nation Under God" was not available for comment.

Alabama Lifts Three-Decade-Old Ban on Yoga in Public Schools. But There's a Catch. [Elliott Hannon / Slate]

Alabama might overturn its 28-year ban on yoga in schools. Just don't say 'namaste.' [Meryl Kornfield / Washington Post]

Alabama ban on yoga in schools questioned [Associated Press]

After a 28-Year Ban, Alabama Could Allow Yoga in Public Schools [Jacey Fortin / The New York Times]

Alabama lawmakers deadlock on effort to lift ban on yoga in public schools [Caitlin O'Kane / CBS News]

Alabama fails to reverse ban on yoga as conservatives say they fear rise in Hinduism [Akshita Jain / The Independent]

Public domain image via U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin Baxter