Yoga Ban Sparks Questions of “Religious” Practices in Schools
Yoga, although it is rooted in ancient Hindu practices, has become a common form of exercise and meditation in Western civilization. It is not uncommon to find yoga classes available as part of physical education and athletic training — except in Alabama schools.
Yoga has been prohibited by Alabama's board of education since 1993, when area conservative groups pushed a ban on yoga, hypnosis, and meditation through the system, according to the Associated Press.
Recently, yoga advocates and others have questioned the ban after a document began circulating listing yoga as an inappropriate gym class activity.
President of the Universal Society of Hinduism Rajan Zed, of Nevada, issued a statement in late August calling for Alabama's BOE to end the ban on yoga, calling it insensitive and a “disservice” to students.
Alabama's education superintendent, Eric Mackey, responded saying the document was old and should not have been released, according to AP reports. However, a BOE official said there were no current plans to repeal the ban.
The original ban described yoga as a "Hindu philosophy and method of religious training.”
Earlier in August, education officials in Blount County, Alabama announced plans to have “In God We Trust” displays on school campuses across the county, according to a report from local Alabama newsite Al.com. Also, a measure on the November ballot may allow public schools to display the Ten Commandments — guidelines of Judeo-Christian religions, which could be defined as a tool of religious training.
No other listed activities in Alabama's gym classes have religious affiliations. Most are banned for lack of participation, potential injury and humiliation of students, according to the Alabama Department of Education Physical Education Instruction Guide.
Yoga's origin lies in the Hindu religion as a practice to control the senses and mind, according to the Hindu American Foundation. There are many references to yoga throughout Hindu scripture, but the more commercialized versions of yoga seen in the modern, Western world are a far cry from the traditional religious practice, according HAF.
"Yoga, although introduced and nourished by Hinduism, was a world heritage and liberation powerhouse to be utilized by all," Zed said.
There are fights all over the nation to either make schools completely secular or implement religious practices like prayer, most citing religious freedom protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Alabama BOE officials are being urged by Zed and yoga advocates to reconsider the ban and not think of the practice as religious, given its modern secular use. But if yoga, which is secularly practiced around the globe, carries too much of a religious affiliation for the Alabama Board of Education, then a uniform mindset may need to be applied in regard to all religions, or reconsidered altogether.