UNITED STATES, June 12, 2021 ((RNS): As soon as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill lifting the state’s 30-year ban on teaching yoga in public schools last month, the critics began weighing in. Christian conservatives said yoga classes might lead students to convert to Hinduism. Others suggested it was a way to sneak religion into the classroom, a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (and a 2021 candidate for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention), took up the issue in his blog and podcast The Briefing, voicing objections he has made many times before.

Most states do not ban yoga, and it’s up to individual school boards to determine whether they want to teach it — typically as a tool to help students move and unwind. The practice has been used in public schools for 50 years or more. The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimates 5 million U.S. children, ages 4 to 17, practiced yoga in school in 2017, the last year for which data is available. But as Alabama shows, the practice is still controversial, especially in conservative states with large numbers of evangelicals.

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