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State Rep. Jeremy Gray's Bill To Bring Yoga Back To Alabama Public Schools

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Alabama has banned yoga instruction in public schools for the last 28 years. And now the state legislature is considering a bill that would let kids get back to the mat. The bill has passed the House, but it has stalled in a Senate committee. Conservative advocacy groups are concerned that, as they see it, yoga promotes Hinduism. Democratic state Representative Jeremy Gray introduced the bill that would bring yoga back to Alabama public schools, and he joins us now.

Representative Gray, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JEREMY GRAY: Thank you all for having me today.

SHAPIRO: Why would you like to see public school kids in Alabama practice yoga?

GRAY: Me, actually being a yogi and actually practicing yoga for the last 10 years, I really thought that it was something that, you know, kids could really take advantage of, especially in K-12 public schools. When we talk about stressors and anxiety and all those things that - from a mental standpoint, it can really help people in K-12. But when you talk about it from a physical standpoint, when you talk about mobility and flexibility and all those things it takes to be good in athletics, so I really thought it had more pros than cons. And I originally brought the bill because I was attending a high school to talk about my position as a lawmaker. And I was talking to the kids there. And they talked about them essentially having a yoga class that they were going to start and they couldn't do it because of this law.

SHAPIRO: So you introduced this bill, and it passes the House 73-25. Why did it run into a roadblock in the Senate? What happened?

GRAY: The backstory is I've been working on this bill for three years in the House. So to the Senate, this is new. To the House, this is like three years in the making. And so some of those conservative groups that were in those articles and with - kind of opposing the bill, out there about 2019, they never kind of showed up again in the House. And so I feel like from a strategic standpoint, they want to go to the Senate and see - they rattled some minds up there. But the bill really stalled really due to the two votes that I needed to pass the bill out, they weren't there. And they're going to be here. And so this bill will be back on the calendar tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: What are people telling you about why this is running into roadblocks in the Senate? It seems like a strange objection that yoga promotes Hinduism and therefore shouldn't be taught in public schools.

GRAY: Some of the people that were objecting, they basically alluded - doing yoga exercise converts you into Hinduism, right? That was the whole premise of it, no real talking points of why or studies or anything that allude to that this actually happened. Most of these people who object this bill have never done yoga before. They probably don't even have kids in K-12 public schools.

SHAPIRO: I feel like I should disclose here that I practice yoga, and I'm Jewish. You say you've been practicing for 10 years or more. What do you make of this opposition based on an idea that it converts a person to Hinduism?

GRAY: This is asinine. I said - I mean, I've been a Christian my whole life at a Baptist church. I thought it was just foolish because, I mean, I'm a prime example. I hadn't converted to anything. And I've been doing yoga for a while now. So I just didn't understand how they could come with such comments and didn't have anything to back it. And I had so many people who email me and say they're doing yoga at churches right now, like in this modern day. So we just didn't really understand where they came from.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

GRAY: And it really made us look foolish. I mean, a lot of people from other states reached out to me and say, yoga, really? Y'all arguing about yoga? I mean, I said, yeah, I mean, this is one of those things you like - it's like it's needed and you want to be an advocate for it. But it's really silly that we're actually debating over yoga.

SHAPIRO: That's Alabama state Representative Jeremy Gray. He is a Democrat.

Thank you for talking with us.

GRAY: Thank y'all for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 8, 2021 at 9:00 PM PDT
A previous headline for this story incorrectly stated Jeremy Gray's position in government as an Alabama congressman. Gray is an Alabama state representative.