Repeal of Alabama yoga ban in K-12 schools gets closer to governor's desk – Montgomery Advertiser

A bill that would lift a nearly three-decade ban on yoga in public schools is a step closer to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk. 
The Alabama Senate voted 23-7 late Thursday for a bill from Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, would allow public schools to offer yoga as an elective course. The bill was amended to put a ban on hypnotic states and meditation in courses, and to require notification of parents about their children enrolling in yoga courses that yoga is associated with Hinduism. 
In the Montgomery County delegation, Sen. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, voted for the bill. Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, voted against it. 
In the Tuscaloosa delegation, Sens. Greg Reed, R-Jasper and Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, voted for the bill. Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa voted against it. 
In the Etowah County delegation, Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, voted for the bill.
Gray said Friday he was not thrilled with the notification amendment, and was exploring the possibility of nonconcurrence in the Senate amendments. 
That would open up a conference committee. With time running out in the session, Gray said, a committee might not reach a compromise over language before legislators adjourn for the year.  He said earlier on Friday that the amendments might not necessarily be a dealbreaker.
“The people who are going to participate in it are going to participate in it,” he said. “This document is not going to deter them from participating in it.”
The legislation would require poses and exercises to use English language names; limit yoga practice to exercises, and forbid the use of the word “namaste.”
The Alabama State Board of Education banned yoga from Alabama public schools in 1993 amid a moral panic stoked by right-wing groups over claims that hypnosis and meditation were being used in public schools. At one State Board of Education meeting, a woman claimed a meditation tape made a child “visibly high.” 
The House of Representatives approved the bill 73-25 in March. But right-wing religious groups, including the Foundation for Moral Law, associated with former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, targeted the bill when it reached the Senate Judiciary Committee in April. The opponents claimed that the bill would allow adherents of Hinduism to proselytize in schools, a claim Gray called “asinine.” The committee delayed a vote on the measure, but moved it out the following week, after opponents stayed away. 
The Senate amendments, from Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur and Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, reflect some of the changes demanded by those opponents.
Orr’s amendment places the ban on hypnosis, meditation and “dissociative mental states” in the law. It also bans techniques that involve “any aspect of Eastern philosophy and religious training in which meditation and contemplation are joined with physical exercises to facilitate the development of body-mind-spirit.”
The amendment from Roberts requires schools to send the following notice to children of parents enrolled in a yoga program, and to sign and return it:  “I am informed that my child (name of child) will participate in yoga instruction at the school named above. I understand that yoga is part of the Hinduism religion. I give my child permission to participate in yoga instruction in school.”
More: Alabama House approves elective yoga in public schools. Why was it banned?
Gray, a former cornerback for the North Carolina State football team, practices yoga and says it has benefitted him physically and spiritually. He has been trying to repeal the ban for several years. 
“It’s definitely been a long journey, but I’m kind of glad it’s coming to an end,” he said. “I’m sorry it had to be a big deal about yoga in Alabama.” 
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or Updated at 11:25 a.m. Gray said he planned to concur in the changes in an interview this morning, but said after the story published that he had begun discussing the possibility of a conference committee.


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